Drilling rules taking focus


Special to the Herald-Star

PITTSBURGH – Some environmental groups are concerned about the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. So are some industry groups.

For Andrew Place, that means the center must be doing something right.

Place, interim director of the Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development, said the center’s mission is to “support continuous improvement and innovative practices through performance standards” for drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. The organization formed last month.

To date, industry representatives are Consol Energy Corp., Chevron, EQT Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell. Chesapeake Energy and Range Resources are two companies that have yet to sign on.

While not directly addressing a particular company, Place said conversations continue with those companies that have yet to sign on to the center’s mission.

He also noted a number of environmental groups – the Group Against Smog and Pollution, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Heinz Endowments – are signed on as partners.

“The Heinz Endowments has a long track record of supporting environmental causes,” Place said. “I think that says a lot about our organization.”

Membership and purpose

Place said the center’s work and standards would cover West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania – areas with burgeoning drilling and fracking activity – as well as New York and other states that have placed a moratorium on fracking.

Chevron Corp., which has drilling operations in Marshall County and maintains some acreage in Ohio County, is one of the founding members of the center, as is Consol Energy, which also has active drilling operations in Marshall County in collaboration with Noble Energy.

“The group’s standards will certainly make an impact in the areas where these founding companies are operating,” Place said. “I have a farm in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Wearing my landowner hat, if I know that a company abides by these standards, I will think better of them.”

Other founding members of the center include the Heinz Endowments, GASP, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Center are the Clean Air Task Force, EQT Corp., Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Royal Dutch Shell and the William Penn Foundation. The new standards established by the voluntary organization include:

Limitations on the flaring of excess methane, which is identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a potent greenhouse gas, and other hydrocarbons.

Reduced engine emissions from drilling rigs, compressor motors and trucks.

Vapor controls on condensate tanks.

Groundwater monitoring and protection.

Improved well designs.

Stricter wastewater disposal methods.

The use of less toxic fracking fluids.

The elimination of diesel fuel for fracking.

Seismic monitoring before drilling begins.

Companies will be encouraged to submit an independent review of their operations to the center. If they are found to be abiding by a list of stringent measures to protect the air and water from pollution, they will receive a stamp of approval with the idea that this will give them an advantage over those who do not have the certification.

“After this gets going, when an operator comes into an area, they will get asked if they meet the standards,” Place said. “The people of the community will want to know if you are certified with us.”

Jacque Bland, manager of corporate communications for Chesapeake Energy, directed questions regarding whether Chesapeake would join the center to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pennsylvania-based trade association to which Chesapeake belongs.

“We appreciate this diverse group’s support for our member companies’ development of natural gas and engaging in a process to embrace its clear environmental and public health benefits,” said Kathryn Klaber, chief executive officer of the coalition. She added her association’s members are “vigorously committed to compliance with this stringent framework.”

Other companies, such as Range, have declined to participate.

“This is one of many avenues in which companies may choose, or not choose, to engage,” Place said. “Organizations like the Marcellus Shale Coalition are good organizations.”

Environmental groups also have expressed concern over the center. According to The Associated Press, the Sierra Club opposes its work, and the group No Frack Ohio said the plan “simply puts green lipstick on a pig.”

Regarding the thoughts that the center is heavily tilted toward favoring the industry, Place again notes the participation of the Heinz Endowments, GASP, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Center are the Clean Air Task Force, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. One expert told the AP the possibility of industry working with environmental groups concerns extremists on both sides of the fracking debate.

“As moderates in the gas industry and in the environmental community work together more in coming years to improve drilling practices, I think you will see the extremes in both camps become increasingly marginal and isolated, and I think that’s a good thing,” environmentalist Michael Shellenberger wrote in an e-mail to the AP.

In addition to his interim role at the center, Place serves as corporate director of energy and environmental policy for EQT. He said no one at the center is discussing ways to help natural gas replace coal in electricity generation.

“No one is thinking about how natural gas and coal interact,” he said, emphasizing Consol’s long history of coal mining operations, such as McElroy and Shoemaker in Marshall County.

Place said the center’s goals do not include seeking to change federal or state laws, noting he believes these performance standards are “no substitute for regulation.”

“This was always seen as version 1.0,” he said of the initial standards set forth. “We have weekly meetings now. Environmentalists and industry representatives are in the same room, thinking of how we can work together.”