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Premier grounds airborne oil survey

Province betting on oil in our backyard: Can more black gold and natural gas be squeezed from Ontario's tiny and little-known oil patch near Sarnia? McGuinty kills plan to measure Ontario's oil patch after Star story, saying it's 'yesterday's economy'

QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU: Rob Ferguson - Jan 27, 2009

Premier Dalton McGuinty has personally nixed any taxpayer-funded oil exploration in southwestern Ontario's oil patch after reading a Toronto Star story yesterday on plans for an aerial survey of the area.

"To be blunt, the premier read the story and he killed it," said press secretary Jane Almeida. "It's just not in line with our priorities."

The story detailed how the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines was footing the bill for a $300,000 airborne geophysical survey of 11,000 square kilometres between Strathroy and Sarnia from Lake Huron to Lake Erie using sophisticated magnetic and electronic equipment.

Critics, including Greenpeace, had questioned the survey given that McGuinty himself has been publicly fronting government efforts on renewable fuels, with recent public appearances touting electric cars and ethanol.

McGuinty phoned several aides and government officials himself yesterday morning to convey his concerns, telling one that "oil is yesterday's economy."

Also scrapped were plans to use the survey to locate any suitable underground caverns big enough for carbon sequestration – a developing concept for storing carbon dioxide so that it will not be released into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

McGuinty and others in his Liberal government have been skeptical of the technique.

However, the airborne survey will still go ahead as planned – but none of its results will be used to hunt for oil or carbon sequestration locations, said Anne-Marie Flanagan, spokesperson for Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle.

"We haven't surveyed this area since the 1960s so it's an important thing for us to do," she told the Star.

Searching for relatively clean-burning natural gas and previously unidentified underground water sources will now be the focus once the data is collected, Flanagan added, noting the survey technology is new and could aid in groundwater protection efforts and in other ways. "We like to have up-to-date geological information on all parts of the province."

Progressive Conservative energy critic John Yakabuski charged the survey was aimed at pumping up the political fortunes of local Liberal MPP Pat Hoy in Chatham-Kent-Essex more than anything else.

Small oil wells in the Sarnia area, many owned by "mom and pop" operations, pump relatively tiny amounts of oil from underground sources first discovered more than 150 years ago. It's sold to nearby refineries.

The area is where the global petroleum industry was born, but other parts of the world proved to be far more lucrative sources.

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