Oil, Natural Gas, and Natural Gas Fluids Drilling and Production in the Inland United States Waters of the Great Lakes?


By: C. D. Volz, DrPH, MPH
Director and Principal Investigator of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities

Is it possible that there will, in the future, be offshore oil and gas platforms in the Great Lakes regions of the United States? The answer is that it has already occurred in Lake Michigan and certainly could be radically expanded with new advances in directional drilling and hydrofracturing of unconventional oil and gas reserves. Oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes was allowed by the State of Michigan but new drilling was subsequently banned by the state legislature. The issuance of new permits for new drilling in the Great Lakes was banned by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109- 58, §386). Canadian law though permits onshore oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes and offshore gas drilling in the Great Lakes (see Congressional Research Service Document, Drilling in the Great Lakes: Background and Issues, 2006.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) completed an assessment of the undiscovered oil and gas potential of the U.S. portions of the Appalachian Basin and the Michigan Basin in 2002 and 2004, respectively The USGS has done an assessment of oil and gas reserves under US portions of the Great Lakes and reports mean levels of recoverable oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids at 311.71 million barrels of oil (MMBO), 5,228.71 billion cubic feet of gas (BCFG) (equal to 5.228 trillion cubic feet of gas), and 121.68 million barrels of natural gas liquids (M MBNGL), respectively. There have been 8-eight petroleum systems identified underlying United States portions of the Great Lakes. These are the;

  1. Precambrian Nonesuch TPS
  2. Ordovi¬cian Foster TPS
  3. [Ordovician] Utica-Lower Paleozoic TPS
  4. Ordovician to Devonian Composite TPS
  5. Silurian Niagara/Salina TPS
  6. Devonian Antrim TPS
  7. Devonian Shale-Middle and Upper Paleozoic TPS
  8. Pennsylvanian Saginaw TPS.

Each of the above systems is named for the source rock(s) of that system and there is only one source rock for each of the listed systems except the Ordovician to Devonian Composite TPS, which is a composite petroleum system. The Ordovician to Devonian Composite TPS is made up of one or a combination of the following source rocks; the Ordovician Collingwood Shale, Devonian Detroit River Group, and the Devonian Antrim Shale. For more information, see the complete USGS fact sheet, Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources Underlying the U.S. Portions of the Great Lakes, 2005, Fact Sheet 2006–3049, April 2006.

Extent of the Utica Shale Formation. Click on the gray compass rose to hide the legend.

This FracTracker snapshot of the extent of the Utica Shale shows that it underlays the major extent of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario in both United States and Canada territorial waters.