ATHENS- Trustees at Ohio University want the school's president to have the authority to enter into mineral rights leases on university-owned land, pending final approval from the board.
The board of trustees passed a resolution at their Friday meeting to give the school a final say in the leases.
The Athens Messenger reports the move came after trustees heard from an ad hoc university committee studying the best ways to safeguard university land from any negative impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing is largely responsible for a natural gas drilling boom, but the technique has raised environmental concerns for its toll or air and water. It uses water, sand and chemicals to stimulate gas production in deep shale deposits.
A new state law has overhauled the process for leasing state-owned land for oil and gas development. It opens up all state land, including property at public colleges, for potential drilling.
Ohio University officials say they are working to secure as much control over school property as possible.
The resolution passed during Friday's meeting will give the board final say on mineral rights leasing, should such contracts be determined to be in the best interests of the university.
Nikki Dioguardi, associate director of legal affairs at the university, said the board of trustees should have the power to veto any mineral rights leases the state enters into regarding university-owned land, but she didn't know if the state could override those vetoes.
The university's President Roderick McDavis said the school was not focused on the potential financial gains from drilling at this time, but administrators are more concerned about environmental impacts associated with fracking.
"We're trying to do the best thing for the environment," he said.
McDavis said he and the board will continue to seek guidance from faculty members trained on the topic.
The ad hoc committee recommended that the school establish its environmental baseline using geological surveys, information on air quality and drinking water reserves, reports of health conditions connected to environmental factors and other element. That way the data is on hand for any school land under consideration. They also recommended writing sample leases to hold the lessee accountable for maintaining those conditions.
The newspaper reports that the study panel also strongly suggested that the university refrain from engaging in leasing activity on five of its six campuses until more is understood about the long-term effects of fracking.
The panel has made an exception for the university's eastern campus in Belmont County, which has already fielded offers to drill on university-owned land.