Great Lakes Issues
Drilling for Oil and Natural Gas Under Great Lakes Waters


The Michigan House and Senate have both passed bills to ban new oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes. This legislation happened because of widespread, strong public support for the measure. More information about this legislation can be found at:

Lake Michigan Federation: Michigan bans drilling under the Great Lakes

Lake Michigan Federation president Sophia Twichell says: "This is one of the greatest victories for the Great Lakes in decades. It reaffirms that people of Michigan want the highest protection for the nation's greatest waters. Now it's time to move on to other ecological threats, including beach closings from sewage overflows, invader species, water diversions, and sand dune mining."

Paul Parks, an experienced engineer who has been very active in this issue, writes:

"In my view we have won a major battle, but it is only part of the continuing battle to protect our Great Lakes. There are still 6 wells under Lake Michigan getting more dangerous as time goes by, due to corrosion and repeated stress. Gas/oil transmission lines are under the Lake bottom at both the Straits and St. Clair River at Port Huron. The one under the Straits is the same line that ruptured at Crystal Falls in the UP last fall. Is there any reason to think it is any safer under water? Both of these lines should be suspended under the bridges, so that leaks could be rapidly found and repaired. And the major problems of diversion, pollution, and exotic species continue.
It is so important to leave the Lakes in better condition for our kids."

In addition to the new Michigan legislation, a new Federal bill bans all drilling in the Great Lakes for 2 years while the US Army Corps of Engineers studies the safety of drilling and issues its report.

Because this issue is likely to surface again in the future, and because of its relevance to the issue of buried pipeline safety, we are continuing to present the information below as background information. For more information on these issues, and others with serious implications to the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem, see:

Lake Michigan Federation

Lake Michigan Federation: Overview of Lake Michigan Oil and Gas Drilling

Lake Michigan Federation: comprehensive review of
coastal oil and gas drilling practices.


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Drilling for Oil and Natural Gas Under Great Lakes Waters

The following "Statement of Principle Against Oil Drilling in the Great Lakes" was signed by the governors of Michigan (James J. Blanchard), Wisconsin (Anthony S. Earl), Pennsylvania (Dick Thornburgh), Minnesota (Rudy Perpich), Indiana (Robert D. Orr), Ohio (Richard F. Celeste), Illinois (James R. Thompson), and New York (Mario M. Cuomo):

"The Great Lakes are the unique natural resource binding our region. The Lakes provide us with an inestimable bounty and a special spirit. They provide us with drinking water, a recreational playground, an enormous fishery, wildlife breeding grounds, a vital transportation link and a key resource for business and agriculture. In sum, unspoiled Great Lakes water is vital to the economic health of our region.

The bottomlands of the Great Lakes are the exclusive property of the states that border them and anyone wishing to drill for oil would need the express permission of the state that owns the land in question. However, we agree that this precious resource should not be vulnerable to oil drilling and its attendant dangers. Therefore, we collectively state our opposition to oil drilling in the waters of the Great Lakes or their connecting channels.

We believe this action will protect our shared resource from an unwise risk. This document stands as evidence of our continued joint stewardship of the Great Lakes."

Contrary to the intent of this agreement opposing drilling in the Great Lakes, oil and gas companies have been drilling under the lakes, by "slant" drilling from shore. Permits were given by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality without public hearings. Recently, the public has begun to learn of these slant drilling operations, as more have been proposed under Lake Michigan. In several public meetings, citizens have voiced serious opposition, based on the potential negative environmental impact on the shoreline ecosystem, and on dangers such as poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas in the petroleum deposits.

Numerous hydrogen sulfide leaks from oil and gas facilities in Michigan have been documented in the Summer 1997 issue of GREAT LAKES BULLETIN; many of these leaks caused illness and required evacuations. At an American Public Health Association convention in Indianapolis in late 1997, several researchers spoke on the dangers of low-level hydrogen sulfide exposure. According to THE SUNDAY CHRONICLE: "One physician who has researched the effects of 'sour gas' [hydrogen sulfide] said people should not be allowed to live within several miles of an underground pipeline that transports natural gas laced with deadly hydrogen sulfide. 'It's a disaster waiting to happen', said Dr. Kaye Kilburn, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California….Another scientist at that conference, Dr. Marvin Legator of the University of Texas Medical Branch, reported that 'recent studies have documented that (hydrogen sulfide) causes persistent toxic effects after chronic low-level exposure.'"

A number of local governments have officially stated their opposition to drilling for oil and gas under the Great Lakes, including: the City of Grand Haven; the Board of Commissioners of the County of Ottawa, Michigan; the City Council of the City of Norton Shores.


Because of his effectiveness is presenting the case for banning drilling under the Great Lakes, we have asked Paul Parks to write a "guest" piece here. Paul's credentials include a degree in Mechanical Engineering and 40 years experience as a Plant Engineer "dealing with all kinds of piping, valve fittings, controls, etc., similar to that used in oil/gas wells."

The DNR/DEQ is supposed to protect our environment, but instead by granting permits to drill for oil/gas under our Great Lakes, they have endangered the greatest source of fresh water in the world. And all for a royalty of 2 million dollars per year out of a state budget of 30 billion dollars per year. This amounts to 10 cents per year per Michigan citizen.

In connection with "slant" drilling under the lake, there are thousands of feet of 8 inch diameter pipe under 2000 pounds per square inch pressure. If this pipe should fail, it would be impossible to repair or stop the leak and the oil would eventually get into the lake or aquifer.

Do pipe lines fail? Ask the people of Jackson. . . of Crystal Falls. . . or read the US General Accounting Office report, "Pipeline Safety" (no. GAO/RCED-00-128), which states that from 1989 to 1998 there were over 2 thousand major pipe line failures in the United States. Why should anyone think pipe lines under the lake are any safer than pipe lines on shore?

Mr. Fitch of the DEQ has stated that even if the pipe lines under the lake ruptured, that the oil could not get into the lake because the rock structure under the lake has no cracks, voids, etc., and is impervious. Considering the sedimentary bedrock in portions of the Great Lakes, that is difficult to believe. In any case, it is highly improbable that oil could not migrate into the water. There is no way to be absolutely sure that there is no way for oil under 2000 psi to work its way up through whatever rock structures lie between it and the lake. Ms. Mindy Koch of the DEQ recently stated that a reason for issuing more permits is that wells drilled on land could be sucking oil and gas from state reserves under the lake. If oil and gas can travel horizontally several thousand feet, they can sure travel vertically several thousand feet.

Promoting drilling under the Great Lakes is a simply terrible idea. To threaten the drinking water (life itself) for a piddling amount of money is pure insanity.