Great Lakes Drilling Debate Splits Local State Officials
GRAND HAVEN — A state legislator wants to cut off recreational funds for communities that enact local bans on directional drilling in Michigan.
The move by state Sen. Leon Stille, R-Spring Lake, comes as the City of Grand Haven prepares to adopt an ordinance that would prohibit directional drilling under Lake Michigan from within city limits.
Stille’s problem with the Grand Haven ordinance is that Michigan’s oil and gas deposits are located north of Manistee. While he believes the Grand Haven ordinance is more a symbolic gesture, Stille sees the potential for the Grand Haven measure to set a precedent for other communities to follow.
To stop any fledgling movement, Stille has proposed amendments to budget bills in Lansing that would block Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant money from going to communities that enact local directional-drilling bans.
The Natural Resources Trust Fund awards millions annually in local grants to pay for recreational projects. The fund’s proceeds come from royalties on oil and gas drilling in Michigan. Ottawa County alone has received more than $12 million in the past decade from the Trust Fund.
“I’m trying to make a point — don’t bite the hand that feeds you. And if you’re going to bite it, here’s what’s in that hand,” said Stille, a former mayor in neighboring Ferrysburg whose legislative district includes Grand Haven.
“A small number of people are trying to spread doom and gloom about directional drilling and there are a few folks listening. They need to understand the other side of the equation,” Stille said.
Stille attached his amendment this month to 2002 budget bills for the state Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality. He also plans to add it to legislation for directional-drilling standards proposed by the Michigan Environmental Sciences Board, a move that would give the measure permanence.
His proposal comes as debate over directional drilling in the Great Lakes increases.
There are presently seven directional-drilling wells in operation in Michigan. Offshore drilling within state waters of the Great Lakes is banned.
Backers of directional drilling say it is safe and recently pushed through legislation in the state Senate lifting a 22-year-old moratorium against it. The state Senate also recently passed legislation that backers say will impose stringent guidelines on directional drilling that are designed to protect the lakes.
Those opposed contend that the possible risks of directional drilling, which drills beneath the lake from a facility onshore, outweighs the need to tap what is a relatively small amount of oil and gas deposits.
“Our basic argument is it’s just not worth the risk for the small amount of potential gain. It is a miniscule amount of what’s being drawn out of these wells,” said Dave Lemmon, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who has proposed federal legislation to ban directional drilling in the Great Lakes.
Stabenow’s bill would also require the National Academy of Science and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to complete a study on the potential environmental impacts of drilling in the Great Lakes. Congress could undo the ban if it deems drilling appropriate.
Lemmon, speaking prior to Sen. Stille’s amendment, said Sen. Stabenow is supportive of local bans on directional drilling.
“It is something, I think, every local community needs to take a look at. They’re the ones that would be the most impacted by problems,” Lemmon said.
The Grand Haven City Council, meanwhile, is expected to vote tonight on final adoption of the city ordinance. The council began considering the ordinance at the request of a small group of residents who are opposed to directional drilling, Mayor Ed Lystra said.
While backers of drilling worry that the Grand Haven ordinance will spur other communities to follow suit, the city never intended to have its action serve as a role model, Lystra said.
“We’re not trying, in my mind, to lay down a gauntlet or act as a guiding light for others. This is something that is right for Grand Haven,” Lystra said.
As for Sen. Stille’s amendment to block Natural Resources Trust Fund grants to communities that enact bans, “Obviously I don’t like it,” Lystra said.