The city of Kent will reach out to Kent State University in an attempt to create a joint policy on unconventional oil and gas drilling on campus and city-owned land.
Council unanimously approved a motion by Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer Wednesday tasking the city's administration to reach out to officials at KSU and develop a joint policy on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public land as the industry begins to take root in Portage County.
"We've been looking to see what we could find common ground on," Shaffer said. "I really want the public to know we're taking this seriously."
Fracking is the process of injecting highly pressurized fluid into rock formations to free oil and natural gas. While vertical fracking has been a common practice for since the 1950s, horizontal fracturing, which allows energy companies to extract larger amounts of oil and gas over a larger distance, has only become common in recent years.
Environmental activists have raised concerns about the amount of water used in the process, as well as the environmental effects of the chemicals in "fracking fluid," which is used to fracture the rock formations.
Oil and gas industry officials claim the process is relatively safe.
Council also approved Shaffer's motion to ask the city's Sustainability Commission to notify the public and council members "... if unconventional drilling activities are imminent in the vicinity of Kent."
Shaffer said her motions were an outgrowth of research and recommendations made by the city's Sustainability Commission and the local chapter of Concerned Citizens Ohio, a group of activists that support stronger local regulation on oil and gas drilling.
Although all regulation of oil and gas drilling is reserved by the state of Ohio, specifically the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Shaffer said she wanted the city to do anything it legally could to protect the city's air and water quality before fracking came to Kent.
Currently, the only horizontally-fractured wells producing oil and gas in Portage County are located in Suffield and Windham Township. Other wells not currently in production have been permitted and drilled within the county, but none of these wells are located in Kent or Franklin Township.
KSU spokeswoman Emily Vincent said Thursday the university did not have a policy specific to fracking, but instead looked to state law on the topic.
"As a state university, the land is owned by the state of Ohio, so we rely on their guidance," Vincent said.
While the state sets the rules for oil and gas drilling on public campuses, the university's board of trustees would have to approve any proposed drilling activity. Vincent said the board has not received any proposals for drilling on university land at this time and no discussions on the matter have been scheduled.
"The current administration has no plans to initiate drilling on our campus," she said.
She said city and university officials have only had "informal discussions" on the subject of fracking at this point.
Kent City Council discussed the possibility of banning fracking within city limits last spring, but Law Director Jim Silver advised council against it, noting the move could provoke a costly legal battle with the state, which the city would likely lose.
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