Exploration and Drilling on Lake Erie: Opportunity and Challenge for New York
J. P. Martin
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Albany, NY
Lake Erie is volumetrically the smallest and by far the shallowest of the five Great Lakes. Though small in stature, it is the only lake currently hosting offshore natural gas drilling and production. Production began in 1913 in the waters of the Province of Ontario, Canada, where there are now approximately 800 offshore wells. The majority of this offshore development lies in an area adjacent to New York’s Lake Erie waters. Natural gas is produced from the Silurian Medina Group, a sandstone complex that lies approximately 1,500 ft below the lake bottom. There has been recent interest shown in the deeper Ordovician Trenton/Back River carbonates, fueled by onshore success in both Ontario and New York. These reservoirs are formed in zones of hydrothermal dolomitization.
Clearly, the lack of activity on the New York side of Lake Erie cannot be attributed to poor geology; instead, the barriers to development are institutional in nature. New York State statute allows for the leasing and production of natural gas under the waters of Lake Erie. However, numerous agreements between the governments of the Great Lakes states has created a defacto moratorium on exploration in New York waters. Before a change in the moratorium can be considered, several key issues must be addressed, including the lack of production infrastructure, no existing leasing program, no state regulations for offshore drilling, and potential adverse ecosystem considerations. At least seven federal and interstate agencies, four state agencies, and numerous local governments will be involved in any decision to allow drilling.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90900©2001 AAPG Eastern Section Meeting, Kalamazoo, Michigan