Environmentalists struck a rare accord with oil and gas companies this week, agreeing on fracking standards that aim to protect air and water quality and the climate as the Marcellus Shale formation in the northeastern U.S. is mined.
The new and oxymoronically named Center for Sustainable Shale Development was created through an agreement struck by energy companies, the Environmental Defense Fund and other green groups, and Pennsylvania philanthropies. The center will provide certification for oil and gas companies that follow the new standards while fracking the expansive shale formation, which is centered in Pennsylvania and stretches from New York to Kentucky.
Oil and gas companies have no binding requirement to achieve certification from the new center, and environmentalists say it is no substitute for regulations. That said, both camps think its neat.
The center, which was developed over two years of sometimes contentious negotiations, hopes to address the widespread health and environmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, by holding companies to standards that exceed federal and state rules.
For instance, federal law currently permits companies to use diesel fuel as part of the fracking fluid they inject deep underground to break open shale formations and unlock the gas. The standards would require that companies certified by the center would not use diesel and would demand more detailed disclosure of other substances than called for in many states.
The center also would push companies to conform to new federal emissions standards at wellheads faster than established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“These ideas didn’t come from left field,” said Andrew Place, the center’s interim executive director. “You look at the suite of good ideas out there in industry, federal agencies and the states and you adopt” the best of them.
Certification under the 15 standards [PDF] will be available to fracking companies beginning later this year. Areas addressed by the standards include:
Air and climate protection:
• Limitations on flaring
• Reduced emissions, including from storage tanks and engines
Surface and ground water protection:
• Maximizing water recycling
• Groundwater protection plans
• Well casing design
• Groundwater monitoring
• Wastewater disposal
• Reduced toxicity of fracking fluid