New center establishes certification process for shale gas producers

Posted March 20, 2013

Michael Bradwell

PITTSBURGH – In an effort that would have seemed highly improbable a few years ago, a group of prominent environmental organizations, two philanthropic foundations and four major energy companies Wednesday announced a new center to provide shale producers with certification of performance standards for shale development.

The announcement, which the group said follows two years of discussions, marked the opening of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, which has established 15 initial performance standards representatives said are designed to ensure safe and environmentally responsible development of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays.

At least one of the participants at the announcement, made at the office of the Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh, likened the initiative to Pittsburgh’s earlier efforts to make the city less polluted.

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, a retired chief executive officer of Alcoa, said he also wanted to see the process done in the most environmentally responsible way possible.

“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,” O’Neill said.

CSSD’s Andrew Place explained to about 30 media members that the organization will focus on 15 initial standards, including air and climate protection and surface and groundwater protection.

Under air and climate protection, the standards include limitations on flaring of wells; use of green well completions and reduced emissions; reduced engine emissions; and emissions controls on storage tanks.

Surface and groundwater protection standards include maximizing water recycling; development of groundwater protection plans; closed loop drilling; well casing design; groundwater monitoring; wastewater disposal; impoundment integrity; and reduced-toxicity fracturing fluid.

He said CSSD also will work to develop and share the approaches that work best.

Place also explained that the idea of having gas producers of all sizes apply for certification will demonstrate to the public which companies are the best when it comes to extracting gas with the least disturbance to the environment.

The group includes representatives from Shell Oil, Chevron, Consol Energy and EQT. They worked with representatives of the Environmental Defense Fund, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, the Clean Air Task Force, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation.

Paul Goodfellow, vice president for unconventional shales for Shell Upstream Americas, said his company will apply for certification. He also urged other producers to seek certification when applications become available later this year.

While Consol didn’t have a representative on Wednesday’s panel, Consol President Nicholas DeIuliis voiced his support in a statement.

“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,” he said. “Fundamentally, the aim is for these standards to represent excellence in performance.”

Both Place and Mark Brownstein of Environmental Defense Fund, said it is hoped that people in communities across the shale region will begin asking if a producer has the CSSD certification.

“The mayor will ask, ‘Are you certified?’ the county commissioner will ask, ‘Are you certified?’ the landowner will ask, ‘Are you certified?’” Brownstein said.

Place said certifications will be determined by CSSD’s independent, third-party certification process.

CSSD is being funded by the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation, as well as the other participants in the organization.

The group said the certification process isn’t intended to take the place of the state’s regulations for the natural gas industry.

When asked whether other shale gas producers in the region were asked to serve on the CSSD, Place explained that the group was put together with an emphasis on expediency.

“We wanted a small group to get us to the finish line,” he said. “There was no effort to exclude anyone.

“The next effort is to bring many other producers to the table.”

When asked about the difficulty of bringing together producers and environmentalists to discuss performance standards, Robert Vagt of the Heinz Foundation acknowledged that early efforts were a struggle.

“There were times when I came back and said, ‘This isn’t going to work,’” he said.

But the two sides gradually came together.

“You don’t make progress by talking with people who agree with you,” Brownstein said.

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