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State: Kent State Controls Fracking on University Land

Local university officials have control over permitting or denying oil and gas drilling on Kent State campuses, including Kent State University Stark Campus

The decision to allow or deny hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas on Kent State University campuses, including Kent State University Stark Campus, lies with local university administrators, according to a state official.

Kent State owns hundreds of acres of land across Northeast Ohio, including its eight campuses, the Kent State Airport in Stow and the Kent State Golf Course in Franklin Township.

Almost any of those large masses of property — the Kent campus alone is nearly 900 acres — would provide easy access to Ohio's portions of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations for oil and gas drillers.

Heidi Hetzel-Evans, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which oversees oil and gas well management in the state, said Kent State's campuses may be state property, but the university is still considered the land owner.

"So they would be the entity moving forward with offering their land for oil and gas leasing," Hetzel-Evans said. "Certainly as the managers of the land, the university would have all the say on whether to move forward with offering the land for leasing."

Ohio House Bill 133, approved by state legislators in May 2011, establishes rules and guidelines for state entities such as public universities to make their land available for drilling in consultation with the state's oil and gas commission.

Section 1509.73 of the bill specifically states public entities such as Kent State may lease such land "that is owned or controlled by the state agency for the exploration for, and development and production of, oil or natural gas."

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As part of House Bill 133 universities are required to inventory land holdings and categorize them in terms of land most suitable and preferred for drilling. The ODNR also has a database for state owned properties where the state retains mineral rights.

University administrators were not made available for an interview.

Kent State spokesperson Eric Mansfield said in an email there are no immediate plans for drilling on university property.

"As a state university, Kent State land is owned by the state of Ohio and therefore, we must rely on their guidance with respect to fracking and the potential for fracking on public land," Mansfield said. "Unless otherwise determined by the state, the university's current administration has no plans to initiate drilling on our campus."

Though university officials have final say, it's unclear if a decision to permit drilling can be made at the administrative level or if the Kent State Board of Trustees would have to sign off on any wells.

"Really Kent State has a lot of control," Hetzel-Evans said. "Essentially, they can decide if they want to make their land … available for oil and gas development."

Hetzel-Evans said opening up of Kent State land for drilling doesn't necessarily mean a well pad would suddenly pop up on a campus.

Non-development leases allow drillers to access oil and gas pockets on a property by setting up a well pad as much as a mile or more away, drill down and then laterally to access the target property.

Other Ohio colleges see Ohio House Bill 133 as less clear in terms of who has the final say on permitting or denying fracking on campus.

Officials at Ohio University are concerned that the law could be interpreted in many ways to allow state administrators to overrule any decision by university leaders on fracking, the Athens News reported.

Stephen Golding, vice president for finance and administration at Ohio University, told the school's board of trustees in April that, for now, they interpret the law as meaning the university has control, according to the Athens News.

"We are staking out a position," Golding said, according to Athens News. "The question is, will that position be upheld?"

The issue came up at a recent Kent City Council meeting, where Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said city administrators had informal talks with university leaders about the issue.

"We’ve had conversations informally … where Kent State talked about joining in some sort of agreement to preclude drilling on campus," Ruller said.

Kent Councilman Roger Sidoti said both the city and university should continue talks about the issue.

"That’s a big chunk of land that’s sitting within our city," Sidoti said.

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