Energy Companies and Environmental Groups Agree on New Fracking Standards

Original story by AP, March 20, 2013.  Reported by

PITTSBURGH   — In an unlikely partnership between  longtime adversaries, some of the nation’s biggest energy companies and  environmental groups have agreed on a voluntary set of standards for gas and oil fracking in the Northeast that appear to go further than  existing state and federal pollution regulations.

The program  announced Wednesday will work a lot like Underwriters Laboratories,  which puts its UL seal of approval on electrical appliances that meet  its standards. In this case, drilling and pipeline companies will be  encouraged to submit to an independent review of their operations, and  if they are found to be taking certain steps to protect the air and  water, they will receive the blessing of the brand-new Pittsburgh-based  Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

If the project succeeds, it could have far-reaching implications for both the industry and  environmental groups. A nationwide boom in hydraulic fracturing, or  fracking, has unleashed huge new energy reserves but also led to fears  of pollution and climate change.

Shell Oil Vice President Paul  Goodfellow said this is the first time the company and environmental  groups have reached agreement to create an entire system for reducing  the effects of shale drilling.

“This is something new,” said Bruce Niemeyer, president of Chevron Appalachia. “This is a bit of a unique  coming-together of a variety of different interests.”

In addition  to Shell and Chevron, the participants include the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force, the Heinz Endowments, EQT Corp., Consol Energy and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the organizers  hope to recruit others.

It may be part of a trend. Earlier this  month a coalition of industry and environmental groups in Illinois  announced that they worked together on drilling legislation now pending  there. But the Pittsburgh project, which has been in the works for  nearly two years, would be voluntary.

“We believe it does send a  signal to the federal government and other states,” said Armand Cohen,  the director of the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force. “There’s no  reason why anyone should be operating at standards less than these.”

The new standards include limits on emissions of methane,  a potent  greenhouse gas, and the flaring, or burning off, of unwanted gas;  reductions in engine emissions; groundwater monitoring and protection;  improved well designs; stricter wastewater disposal; the use of less  toxic fracking fluids; and seismic monitoring before drilling begins.

The project will cover Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio — where a  frenzy of drilling is under way in the huge, gas-rich Marcellus and  Utica Shale formations — as well as New York and other states in the  East that have put a hold on new drilling.

Shell said it hopes to  be one of the first companies to volunteer to have its operations in  Appalachia go through the independent review. Chevron said it expects to apply for certification, too, when the process is ready to start later  this year.

Mark Brownstein, an associate vice president with the  Environmental Defense Fund, said many oil and gas companies claim to be  leaders in protecting the environment, and “this can be one opportunity  for them to demonstrate that leadership” by submitting to an audit.

“Anyone who claims to be placing a priority on good management practice” should be rushing to sign up, he said.

The project will be overseen by a 12-member board consisting of four seats  for environmentalists, four for industry and four for independent  figures: former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill; Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency  chief; Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon; and Jane Long,  former associate director at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The center’s proposed 2013 budget is $800,000, with the two sides expected  to contribute equal amounts, said Andrew Place, the project’s interim  leader and director of energy and environmental policy at EQT, an  Appalachian energy company.

Mark Frankel, an expert on ethics and  law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in  Washington, said the idea sounds promising, but it remains to be seen if the new standards are a significant improvement over existing laws. He  said there are also ethical and policy questions.

“What does it mean to have an independent board? Who’s on it? How do they get on it?” he asked.

George Jugovic, president of the environmental group PennFuture, one of the  participants, said the industry’s involvement makes this different from  past debates over fracking.

“Buy-in from them is huge. That  provides leadership from within,” Jugovic said. “It’s very different  from someone from the outside saying, ‘You can do better.'”

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About cberl

Chris Berl is President and CEO of Berl's Commercial Supply and Managing Director of Both companies specialize in the sales of drinking fountains, commercial restroom accessories such as hand dryers and other commercial building fixtures. Chris is also a Director at Hoyt Royalty which is a family run enterprise managing mineral rights in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania.