PITTSBURGH (AP) - An uncommon partnership between oil and gas companies and some environmental groups has accepted its first application for a certification program aimed at promoting voluntary but tough new standards in addition to existing government regulations on drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
The Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale said Thursday one drilling company, which was not identified, has submitted an application to be certified. Director Susan LeGros said an independent audit of the company is scheduled for early June.
The center has hired Bureau Veritas, a French global testing and inspection firm, to review applications and compliance by drillers. The certification process involves the independent review of each applicant's drilling and environmental protection practices. A firm that passes the review is monitored for two years then undergoes the review process again.
The gas drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale, largely brought on with the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has generated tens of billions of dollars and reduced energy bills and fuel imports in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. But it's also brought concerns, and sparked protests, over air and water pollution.
The certification program was not welcomed by all, eliciting sharp differences among environmental groups and the energy industry. The Sierra Club has criticized the effort, saying a voluntary program is no substitute for tough state or federal rules. Chesapeake Energy has said the program unnecessarily goes beyond government regulations, and the company has no plans to join the partnership.
The founding members of the center include energy companies Chevron, Shell, EQT and Consol Energy, along with the Clean Air Task Force, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, and other groups. The Richard King Mellon Foundation this week announced a new $150,000 grant to the center.
In a related development, LeGros said, the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation are no longer providing grant support. A Heinz spokeswoman declined to comment. A Penn Foundation spokesman confirmed no additional grants were currently in the works, but said he could not predict future decisions.
The shale also lies under parts of New York but that state has a drilling moratorium.