Fracking companies, environmentalists and philanthropies join forces
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A first-of-its-kind effort to set cleaner shale gas development standards and reduce the industry's air and water impacts was launched today by a consortium of gas drilling companies, environmental groups and philanthropic foundations in Pittsburgh.
The new Center for Sustainable Shale Development is a collaborative attempt to reduce the environmental risks and improve the performance of companies working in all phases of Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale development by setting higher performance standards and independently certifying those companies that meet them.
The initial set of 15 performance standards includes limitations on gas well flaring, use of "green completion" including no-leak vales and piping, storage tank emission controls, reduced compressor station and fracking engine emissions, development of groundwater protection plans, improved impoundment integrity, reduced toxicity of fracking fluids and improving water recycling to at least 90 percent.
The standards were developed by the 11-member consortium in meetings held over the last two years, said Andrew Place, interim executive director of the consortium and director of public policy research at EQT Corp., a Pittsburgh-based gas development company. Those standards will be updated and improved as new technologies make cleaner development operations possible, Mr. Place said.
"None of these came out of left field. Kernels can be found throughout the industry, so this isn't anything foreign," Mr. Place said. "But this sets a high bar for industry to meet with the independent third-party certification."
Companies involved in shale gas development can apply for certification beginning later this year, Mr. Place said.
"By January 2014 we expect to have 100 percent compliance with the standards from those companies that sign on, not counting exploratory wells," Mr. Place said.
He said the program certification will accelerate by a year the federal "green completion" well drilling and development standards set to take effect in January 2015.
In addition to EQT, the consortium includes three of the region's largest shale gas development companies -- Chevron Appalachia, Consol Energy and Shell -- plus the Heinz Endowments, William Penn Foundation, Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Defense Fund, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Group against Smog and Pollution.
Reductions in emissions of air and water pollutants will grow as more companies sign on and achieve certification.
"While shale development has been controversial, everyone agrees that, when done, producers must minimize environmental risk," said Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force.
"These standards are the state of the art on how to accomplish that goal, so we believe all Appalachian shale producers should join CSSD, and the standards should also serve as a model for national policy and practice."
Joe Osborne, GASP legal director, said the certification program is a way to push more protective industry practices and reduce the environmental risks of shale gas development.
"We hope our participation shows this is an attempt to create legitimate and meaningful performance standards and that it will have a positive effect on the environment," Mr. Osborne said. "For companies it's a way to set themselves apart in a good way.
Lynn Seay, a spokeswoman for CONSOL Energy, released a statement saying the Cecil-based coal and gas drilling company supports the goals of the consortium and recognizes the value of a collaborative approach to developing shale gas in the Appalachian region.
"CSSD is focusing on the establishment of standards that will initially address the protection of air and water quality and climate, and will be expanded to include other performance standards such as safety," said Nicholas J. DeIuliis, president of CONSOL Energy. "Fundamentally, the aim is for these standards to represent excellence in performance."
First Published March 20, 2013 1:00 pm