Michigan lawmakers could soon begin debating two bills that would prohibit drilling for oil and natural gas under the Great Lakes but there are questions about how much gas and oil would actually be gained.
One bill, introduced by Rep. Barb Vander Veen (R-Allendale) would prohibit all such drilling unless it originated from an inland location above the Great Lakes. The bill is currently in committee.
“From the time I was going door-to-door campaigning until now, that”s been the one major environmental issue my constituents have been interested in,” said Vander Veen, who represents Michigan”s 89th District, which lies along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Vander Veen”s bill is part of a package of three bills and two resolutions known as the Great Lakes Water Protection Act. After one more hearing by the Conservation and Recreation Committee in December, the package should reach the floor for debate, Vander Veen said.
State Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate. His bill, which is currently on the Senate floor, calls for an outright moratorium that would not allow any drilling under the Great Lakes.
Peters, who is also running for governor, said that he expects hearings on the bill to end this month and action on his bill or a similar one when the lawmakers are back in session in January.
“We don”t believe there”s a whole lot of oil and gas under the Great Lakes to begin with,” Peters said, “and many shoreline residents believe that drilling is incompatible with other recreational uses.”
A less than eight-week supply of natural gas is believed to be under the Great Lakes, along with about a three-week supply of oil, Peters said. That is not enough to result in a price impact on heating prices.
Lynn Walter, professor of geological sciences at the University, does research about oil, gas and deep waters associated with oil and gas. She said that in her experience the oil and gas wells are less of a problem for the environment than the development that often comes with them.
“My experience has been that we have very little leakage from the thousands of wells we already have. Noxious gases and brines leaking up onto the beach is not a realistic reason (to forbid drilling), putting in a road that degrades the environment is a bigger problem,” Walter said.
Walter said that while she is not a proponent of drilling under the Great Lakes, the state does use the gas that is produced in Michigan, adding that the local oil and gas companies would benefit from the sale of more energy.
“The needs have to be weighed,” she said. “I would like them to decide for the right reason, not because of bad data.”