Monday, July 28, 2014

Sustainable shale center opens

Organization will inspect, certify that drillers are following standard practices

January 21. 2014 11:47PM
By Jon O’Connell

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PITTSBURGH — They aspire to make shale-gas production last.

Leaders at the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) on Tuesday announced they are open for business.

The organization formed last year is now accepting applications for certification in its 15 performance standards that interim Executive Director Andrew Place said will give natural gas drillers “social license to go forth.”

“Performance standards are only as substantive as the assurance that backs them up,” Place said.

To become CSSD certified, natural gas operators pay an application fee, between $30,000 and $50,000 depending on the certification level, and then subject themselves to a lengthy audit by third-party inspection firm Bureau Veritas, an international company that works in 140 countries.

College presidents, non-profit organization leaders and industry executives make up the center’s board. Also announced Tuesday, Susan Packard LeGros, a former attorney with Philadelphia-based law firm Stevens & Lee, will succeed Place as the center’s official executive director.

“CSSD serves as a complement to strong regulatory frameworks,” Place said, explaining that the center’s standards are another layer of assurance that developers working in the gas-rich counties of northern and western Pennsylvania are using best practices when it comes to dealing with air pollution, groundwater control and transparency.

Many of the standards overlap, but the center may be able to identify shortcomings that have slipped through the cracks or those government agencies simply haven’t approached yet, Place said.

Former New Jersey governor and a board member for the center Christine Todd Whitman said the best practices will be a boon for the environment.

“When you can have a voluntary program that is subject to rigorous standards, you can get a lot further,” Todd Whitman said. “You can see a positive impact on the environment faster.”

The center’s initial list of performance standards can be viewed at its website, Standards are subject to change as the industry develops and new technology comes forth.

Place championed the center’s stricter rules on gas flaring, a practice used to burn off excess pressure from natural-gas wells, stricter rules for companies’ engine fleets and a “closed-loop” standard for handling hydraulic-fracturing waste water that requires companies to recycle as much of it as possible and dispose of the rest of it responsibly.

Place would not reveal which companies might be seeking certification since the bell went off Tuesday; however, he said a “substantive handful” are amid talks to begin the audit process.

No law requires companies to have the center’s certification. It remains to be seen if drilling companies will see reductions in the hefty liability insurance premiums — sometimes $40 million to $50 million — they pay for a single well pad, Place said.

Last month the state Supreme Court issued a decision that knocked down new legislation that imposed a sweeping zoning code on all state municipalities requiring them to allow drilling in their borders.

The center’s standards, or any set of best practices, for that matter, give communities guidelines they can hold up to drilling companies considering new well pads or pipelines, Place said.

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