Quality drilling: It's time for higher standards on Marcellus Shale

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In Pennsylvania's battle between gas drillers and environmentalists, it's good to see someone reaching for higher ground. And it happens to be gas drillers and environmentalists.

With the help of two foundations and strong civic leadership, an unlikely band of energy companies and environmental groups have collaborated to raise operating standards in the Marcellus Shale drilling industry for the benefit of everyone -- workers, businesses and people who care about clena air and water.

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development was introduced on March 20 as an initiative to certify the adoption of higher performance procedures in 15 areas that are protective of air quality, water resources and climate.

The purpose is to encourage energy companies to go above and beyond state and federal regulations and, in the words of Nicholas DeIuliis, president of Consol Energy, "to represent excellence in performance." Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, said the higher standards should "serve as a model for national policy and practice."

Among the goals for the gas drilling workplace are: reducing engine emissions, setting controls on storage tanks, maximizing water recycling, developing groundwater protection plans, improving well casing designs, enhancing wastewater disposal and reducing the toxicity of fracturing fluid.

That's a broad range of practices, but the founding participants are major players in the field that share a common interest to raise the bar: Chevron, the Clean Air Task Force, Consol Energy, the Environmental Defense Fund, EQT Corporation, the Group Against Smog and Pollution, the Heinz Endowments, PennFuture, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Shell and the William Penn Foundation.

The CSSD also has a 12-member board of directors that includes Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University; Paul O'Neill, former U.S. Treasury secretary; and Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With clout like that, a $1 million budget from its members, and a permanent executive director due to start by July, the center expects to begin certifying exemplary gas operations in the third quarter of the year.

The CSSD endorsement will be similar to the LEED certification given to energy-efficient buildings. Such a Good Housekeeping seal of approval will be enormously valuable to individuals, businesses and municipalities that must deal with an enterprise that's been a source of controversy and conflicting reports.

Although shale gas development has created many jobs and expanded the economy, it also has raised concerns about environmental harm and regulatory quality. The Center for Sustainable Shale Development is a pioneering venture that brings together the best minds and a strong commitment to certify operations that do drilling right -- with the kind of best practices that deliver best outcomes.

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