The Michigan House of Representatives recently voted overwhelming 98 to 7 and the Michigan Senate voted 28 to 5 to pass bills to prohibit “slant” or directional drilling under the Great Lakes from wellheads onshore, but allows existing slant wells to continue to operate. House Bill 5118, sponsored by northern Michigan Representative Scott Shackleton (R), prohibits directional drilling underneath the Great Lakes beginning March 1, 2002. State Senator Ken Sikkema (R), from Grandville in southwest Michigan, Chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, recently moved the Bill from the committee unanimously for a full vote before the Senate. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources was in the process of preparing a sale of leases for Great Lakes bottomland drilling when the U.S. Congress passed a temporary ban of its own on directional drilling.
Recent polling suggests that banning oil or gas drilling under the Great Lakes is strongly supported by Michigan residents. The people of Michigan consider the shoreline of the Great Lakes a priceless ecological, recreational, and scenic resource. People who live, work, and recreate along these shorelines recognize that the dunes, wetlands, and forests that characterize this landscape should not be marred by industrial development that would accompany directional drilling. If permitted, directional drilling would be primarily concentrated along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the central part of the state, but could extend as far north as Antrim County in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. There are seven directionally-drilled slant wells currently operating from the Michigan shoreline. These wells would not be affected by the legislative ban.
Following the overwhelming vote in the House and Senate, Governor John Engler stated he may stop fighting a proposed ban on oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes. Governmental supporters of the ban, including Lieutenant Governor Dick Posthumus, argue that even minor risks should not be considered in exchange for what they say are probably small amounts of oil and gas beneath the lakes.