The Marcellus Shale formation, which lies beneath much of Pennsylvania, is the largest unconventional natural gas reserve in the world. Some say that there is enormous economic potential—as much as $10 billion and 111,000 jobs— for Pennsylvania to take advantage of this reserve as new drilling techniques have unlocked vast resources previously impossible to reach. Others, including the Sierra Club, claim that shale mining would increase greenhouse gas pollution, rob the region of water resources—and might even cause earthquakes.
On March 20, a group of environmental advocacy organizations, philanthropic foundations, and energy companies founded a unique center to provide producers with certification of performance standards for shale development. The Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) has established 15 initial performance standards that, constituents believe, will ensure safe and environmentally responsible development of the Appalachian Basin’s abundant shale gas resources. These standards will form the foundation of the CSSD’s independent, third-party certification process.
“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, CONSOL Energy, a diversified producer of both natural gas and high-BTU coal in the Appalachian Basin. “Fundamentally, the aim is for these standards to represent excellence in performance.”
The major areas addressed by the initial performance standards include:
- Limitations on flaring,
- Use of green completions,
- Reduction of engine emissions,
- Controls on storage tank emissions,
- Water recycling,
- Groundwater protection plans,
- Closed-loop drilling,
- Optimal well casing design,
- Groundwater monitoring,
- Wastewater disposal,
- Impoundment integrity, and
- Reduced toxicity fracturing fluid.
“CSSD is the result of an unprecedented effort that [has]brought together a group of stakeholders with diverse perspectives, working to create responsible performance standards and a rigorous, third-party evaluation process for shale gas operations,” said Robert Vagt, president of The Heinz Endowments, two private, Pittsburgh-based foundations that share a mission to help southwestern Pennsylvania thrive economically, ecologically, educationally and culturally.
Vagt added, “This process has demonstrated for us that industry and environmental organizations, working together, can identify shared values and find common ground on standards that are environmentally protective.”
CSSD’s founding participants are Chevron (News - Alert), Clean Air Task Force, CONSOL Energy, Environmental Defense Fund, EQT Corporation, Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), Heinz Endowments, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture), Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Shell, and William Penn Foundation.
Technical support has been provided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center founded by the University of California; ICF International (News - Alert), a management, technology, and policy consulting firm based in Fairfax, Virginia; and the Pittsburgh-based law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott.
“While shale development has been controversial, everyone agrees that, when done, producers must minimize environmental risk,” said Armond Cohen, executive director, Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing atmospheric pollution. “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.”
“While the potential economic and environmental benefits of shale gas are substantial, the public expects transparency, accountability and a fundamental commitment to environmental safety and the protection of human health from the companies operating throughout the region. CSSD is a sound step toward assuring the public that shale development is being done to the requisite standards of excellence,” said Paul O’Neill, who served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury during former President George W. Bush’s first term and is also the retired chairman of Pittsburgh-based Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) and a member of CSSD’s Board of Directors.
Gas producers can begin seeking certification in these areas later this year.
Edited by Brooke Neuman