Skyrocketing energy prices combined with the hurricane devastation in the Gulf of Mexico are just the spurs needed for the state of Ohio to take another look at the possibility of drilling for natural gas under Lake Erie and on state-owned lands as well, according to an Ohio legislator.

“Public opinion will be modified by prices; our priorities change with changes in our pocketbooks, said Rep. John Hagan, R-Alliance, chairman of the Ohio House Utilities & Energy Committee. His committee heard testimony Wednesday on current and future natural gas price increases for consumers in the state, and on the hardship for low income households.

Hagan said he is working on a bill to introduce in the state legislature in two to three weeks looking to tap the state’s resources “in an environmentally safe way.” He wants to work with environmental groups to protect the public interest. “I’m convinced we have the technology and the ability to do this in a safe way.” The committee also heard testimony from oil and gas producers calling for more access to public lands.

Despite the fact of the thousands of wells that have been successfully drilled on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, Ohio Gov. Robert Taft has outlawed drilling on the U.S. side until his term expires at the end of 2006 (see Daily GPI, Aug. 22, 2003), and the U.S. Congress has banned drilling on the U.S. side of any of the Great Lakes. The federal ban was extended in the energy bill passed in August.

“The first thing we want to see is what is the will of the people of Ohio. If their will is to tap the resources then we will push it at the federal level.” Hagan said. The extension of the federal ban, that would otherwise have expired this year, in the new energy law “is kind of contradictory; that law should be about providing energy.”

Hagan said his committee had looked at the issue two years ago but could not reach a consensus. He currently is looking to round up new resources of information on the technology and systems for setting out a responsible program to tap into the state’s resources. The state has nearly 600,000 acres of public lands, but does not allow leasing except on some grandfathered tracts.

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