BEREA — Berea City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday expressing opposition to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in watershed areas near the reservoirs from which the city draws its drinking water.
Additionally, Berea College President Kyle Roelofs issued a statement that the college's 10,000 acres of forest land "is not open to oil and gas exploration or development."
Fracking is a drilling technique that injects water, chemicals and sand into the ground to break up the rock and free oil and natural gas locked in the tiny pores in the rock.
In the resolution approved on a 7-0 vote Tuesday, the city council "expresses its opposition to hydraulic fracturing in Berea's watershed areas."
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The resolution "urges landowners in the area to consider the long-term impact associated with the leasing of their property for the purposes of hydraulic fracturing before taking any action."
The resolution also urges Madison County Fiscal Court "to review land policies and zoning regulations with respect to the impact of industrial type activity, such as fracking, on water quality."
Finally, the resolution asks the state legislature to study the impact of fracking on water quality.
Over the last year, leasing agents have approached landowners in southern Madison County and northern Jackson and Rockcastle counties so that energy companies could drill for oil and gas under their land.
The city serves 30,000 water customers in the city as well as through customers served by Southern Madison Water District and the Garrard County Water Association.
Berea Municipal Utilities is one of the few systems in the Bluegrass region that doesn't rely on the Kentucky River for its water supply. Berea draws its water from four reservoirs, and some people are concerned about the impact that fracking could have on water quality.
"We're concerned about that process being so close to our watershed," council member Diane Kerby said at a work session last month.
But oil and gas representatives like Berea College graduate Bill Daugherty, a managing partner in Blackridge Resource Partners, an exploration company in Lexington, say the concern about water quality is exaggerated.
In an opinion piece published in the Herald-Leader in February, Daugherty wrote that he has fracked more than 1,000 wells in West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio, and that significant precautions are taken to prevent spills and protect groundwater.
"It's not as awful as everybody says it is," Daugherty told the city council work session last month.
In a related development, Roelofs, the Berea College president, on Monday issued a statement about Berea College Forest. The city of Berea's four reservoirs — Owsley Fork Reservoir, Cowbell Hollow Reservoir, B-Lake and Kale Lake — are all within the forest boundaries. The forest has acreage in Madison, Jackson and Rockcastle counties.
Roelofs, speaking on behalf of the college's board of trustees and the administration of the college, said, "The Berea College Forest holds a special place in American forestry and is a vital component of the college's program.
"Owing to its unique nature and special uses, including water resources, the Berea College Forest is not open to oil and gas exploration or development. Indeed, the college will continue to look for ways in which to preserve and benefit from this extraordinary resource that has so well served generations of Bereans and the region."
No companies have approached Berea College about the potential development of the forest, Roelofs said in an email. However, he said the college "issued the release because of the local interest in the topic."
Since 2002, Berea College Forest has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The college uses the forest for education, preservation of wildlife and biodiversity, recreation, soil and water conservation, and sustainable timber management.