Andy Harris correspondent

KENT: Ward 5 Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer’s comments in the closing moments of the Feb. 20 council meeting calling for the Sustainability Commission to keep a closer eye on drilling in the vicinity of the city are a sign of things to come.

Shaffer urged the council to direct the citizen-led commission to keep it appraised of issues related to drilling in the "immediate vicinity of Kent." She believes it will continue to be a major issue for the city, as it has become for many cities around the United States.

"Council referred [to] a study of how unconventional drilling might impact Kent to the Sustainability Commission. They met eight or so times in public meetings to sort through all the facts and come up with some recommendations," Shaffer explained. She added that she didn't motion to approve the commission's recommendations because they were not all actions and some, such as water testing, the city is already doing.

"These concerns need to be expressed at the state and federal levels as well,” Shaffer said. “Legally, our hands are tied in many ways on this issue." 

A separate group called Concerned Citizens of Kent/Portage County offered similar recommendations, and Shaffer's comments specifically focused on the commission's recommendation that they monitor regularly for drilling activity near the city.

"I thought that made a lot of sense, especially if they are willing to do it," she said.

During the meeting, Ward 3 Councilman Wayne Wilson expressed support for the idea and agreed with Shaffer's suggestion that in order to properly monitor such activities, the oversight would need to extend beyond the city’s limits in certain cases.

At this point, the council has not been made aware of any unconventional drilling (also known as horizontal fracking) occurring within or near the city limits.

The Sustainability Commission has notified the council that it does not believe such drilling will be necessary unless and until cheaper and easier places are exhausted, simply because of the amount of land that needs to be assembled for such an effort.

At present, the city is working with Kent State University on what Shaffer termed "a joint statement regarding drilling on city-owned or university property, some of the largest tracts of land.

"Just because its not likely doesn't mean we shouldn't take precautions, and our well fields are at and beyond the city limits in Franklin Township. Water migration doesn't respect city limits," Shaffer continued. I’m not against drilling for gas and oil, although I'd like to see more focus on renewable energy. I use gas and oil. I amagainst despoiling our environment, lowering our quality of life we've been working so hard to build, and ruining or otherwise jeopardizing our award-winning water supply."

In her remarks to the rest of the council, Shaffer also referenced roads and infrastructure as a part of her assessment of the drilling situation. She said she wants to see what the city can do within state limits to protect those assets in terms of preventing the dumping of toxic chemicals, prohibiting certain forms of transport on city roads and streets and other similar issues.

In a sense, Shaffer's comments are an extension of the focus citizen-led groups such as the Sustainability Commission or Concerned Citizens of Kent/Portage County have already placed on drilling and other related environmental issues.

"Citizens are trying to be proactive, rather than reactive and to petition their government to regulate and monitor the industry more stringently," she concluded. "It's easier to do this at the local level, where our responses can let the state know we are concerned and possibly put the industry on notice that the city of Kent would not be a friendly place in which to drill. Personally, I want this industry to be held to the standards of other, much less polluting, industries."