PITTSBURGH - At first glance, one may wonder what Consol Energy and Chevron Corp. have in common with the Group Against Smog and Pollution.
However, as founding members of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, the natural gas drilling companies will work with the environmental advocates to find ways to establish high standards for safety and pollution in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions.
"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, Consol president. "Fundamentally, the aim is for these standards to represent excellence in performance."
A drilling rig is set up near a farm in Springville, Pa., to tap gas from the giant Marcellus Shale gas field.
In announcing the formation of the center in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, officials said the project 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 moratorium on fracking. The center's mission is to "support continuous improvement and innovative practices through performance standards."
"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," said Robert Vagt, president of The Heinz Endowments, another one of the center's founding organizations.
The new standards include placing limits on the following: emissions of methane, which is identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a potent greenhouse gas; flaring of unwanted gas, such as excess ethane or pentane; reductions in engine emissions; groundwater monitoring and protection; improved well designs; stricter wastewater disposal; the use of less toxic fracking fluids; the elimination of diesel fuel for fracking; and 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 from the center, with the idea that this will give them an advantage over those who do not have the certification. Producers can begin seeking certification in these areas later this year.
"We do recognize that this resource is going to be developed," Vagt said."We think that it can be done in a way that does not do violence to the environment."
"Raising the bar on performance and committing to public, rigorous and verifiable standards demonstrates our companies' determination to develop this resource safely and responsibly," said Bruce Niemeyer, president of Chevron Appalachia.
In addition to Chevron, Consol, the Heinz Endowments and GASP, other founding members of the center are the Clean Air Task Force, the Environmental Defense Fund, EQT Corp., Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Royal Dutch Shell and the William Penn Foundation.
"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.
In addition to Cohen, DeIuliis, Niemeyer and Vagt, the center's board of directors includes Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University; Paul Goodfellow, vice president of U.S. Unconventionals for Shell; Paul King, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council; Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund; Jane Long, principal associate of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Paul O'Neill, former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department; David Porges, president and chief executive officer of EQT; and Christine Todd Whitman, former administrator of the U.S. EPA and the former governor of New Jersey.
Jacque Bland, manager of corporate communications for Chesapeake Energy, directed questions regarding the Center to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Canonsburg, Pa-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.