Greene farmer heads coalition of opposing shale forces

Posted June 2, 2013

Rick Shrum

Andrew Place specializes in diversity. He is an energy company executive in downtown Pittsburgh, a city dweller and a frequent business traveler.

He also owns a farm in Greene County, where he and his family are quite comfortable with a less-than helter-skelter pace. “We still call that our home,” he said.

And, for another month, he has two jobs.

Place’s ability to balance personal and professional lifestyles serves him well, especially in that second job – interim director of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

In it, he oversees a coalition of unlikely partners – gas and oil companies, environmental organizations and philanthropic foundations – that are working to establish and monitor voluntary performance standards to certify oil and gas production companies working in the Marcellus and Utica shales.

The mix seems to be volatile, especially in a volatile industry, gas and oil. Yet the individuals are united in their cause of environmentally responsible drilling.

“We believed when we started, and I think it’s true, that we can find a central ground on which we can accomplish goals,” Place said. “Reaching a real consensus is the real value of what we put together.”

Place, 52, is the corporate director of energy and environmental policy at EQT Corp. After two years of planning and discussions, he and the other coalition members announced the formation of the center March 20. Its offices are in EQT Plaza, the building where Mr. Diversity works at his permanent job.

He splits time between jobs, floors and sets of offices, through an agreement with EQT, one of the founding members of CSSD. Place will head the center until June 30, when a permanent director – who hasn’t been selected – takes over.

“It was important that I helped launch this,” said Place, who will return to EQT full time in July.

His company is one of four oil and gas drilling firms involved with the coalition, which also includes Shell Oil, Chevron and Consol Energy. Others in that brethren may follow, but will have to be certified.

“There’s clearly interest, but we have to have the evaluation piece in place,” said Place, explaining that the center is implementing a system to evaluate and certify firms that adhere to high performance standards. “It will take time to expand the pool of operators, but it is important to expand.”

The four energy companies participated in CSSD’s founding along with the Clean Air Task Force, the Environmental Defense Fund, Group Against Smog and Pollution, the Heinz Endowments, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the William Penn Foundation.

CSSD is funded by the Heinz Endowments, the William Penn Foundation and other coalition participants.

The coalition has instituted 15 standards that fall into two categories, air and climate protection and surface and groundwater protection.

The first category includes limitations on flaring of wells; use of green well completions and reduced emissions; reduced engine emissions; and emissions controls on storage tanks.

The second includes 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.

For Place, the coalition is another interesting endeavor in an interesting life. He was born in England, was educated at a Cincinnati high school and Cornell University, and worked in the state Department of Environmental Protection before arriving at EQT in 2011. Before that, he was a research fellow at Carnegie Mellon University.

His wife, Stacey Jarrell, is an attorney with the Pittsburgh law firm of Reed Smith LLP. They own a house in the Shadyside section of the city and have a daughter, Emma, 16, and a son, Aidan, 14, who attend schools in the city.

Then there is that farm 45 miles south of Pittsburgh, where he raises beef cattle and sheep. Place bought it 24 years ago, a 210-acre spread in Washington Township, between Ruff Creek and Sycamore.

It has more trees than it had in 1989. Years ago, Place found a rare species of salamander on the farm. Largely to accommodate the critter, and to expand its habitat, the owner planted more than 5,000 hardwood trees on 42 acres.

“It was protecting the full footprint of the watershed.”

He wanted to enhance and share his home, and did. And in the process, Andrew Place displayed another example of his diversity.

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