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Not Everyone is Ready to Sign Appalachian Fracking 'Peace Treaty'

It was billed as a bilateral effort to ensure safe and environmentally responsible development of the Appalachian Basin's shale gas resources, but not everyone on the environmental side of the aisle is ready to embrace the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD).

"A hydraulic fracturing peace treaty? Not so fast, my friend," Ohio Citizen Action Executive Director Sandy Buchanan said on the group's website Thursday. According to Buchanan, CSSD claims to cover drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations throughout the Marcellus and Utica shales, but its membership excludes Ohio.

"In truth, this deal in no way represents the interests or agreement of the people being harmed by fracking in Ohio," Buchanan said. And the voluntary standards adopted by CSSD aren't likely to avoid potential environmental problems in the Appalachian Basin, Buchanan said.

"By definition, voluntary standards are not 'tough.' People who can be hurt by violations must have some recourse. If the honor system worked with Texas and Oklahoma drillers, we wouldn't have the problems we do today."

The agreement by drillers and environmental groups to provide producers with certification of performance standards for shale development is "akin to slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping wound," a Sierra Club campaign director told the Associated Press.

But John Hanger, a former director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), believes the CSSD's certification process will create consumer demand, prompting more drillers to take part in the program.

"Ultimately, it will matter not that individual gas producers like or dislike CSSD," Hanger said on his blog Thursday. "What will be decisive is that consumers of gas from Washington, DC, to Maine and from New York to Chicago will demand that their gas is certified as sustainably managed."

Industry participants in the Pittsburgh-based CSSD are Chevron Corp., Consol Energy Inc., EQT Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell plc (see Shale Daily, March 21). Other founding participants are Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Defense Fund, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future and Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and two philanthropic organizations: The Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill will serve as the center's chairman.

In a series of discussions over the past two years, the participants worked to adopt a set of progressive and rigorous performance standards based on current understanding of the risks associated with natural gas development and the technological capacity to minimize those risks.

Companies seeking CSSD certification would have to adhere to the center's performance standards, which include disclosing chemicals used in fracking operations, adopting closed-loop systems and other efforts to reduce wastewater and air emissions from the drilling process. Companies would be audited by an independent contractor. CSSD plans to begin accepting certification applications later this year.

The CSSD's performance standards complement oil and gas standards Pennsylvania implemented with Act 13, the state's omnibus Marcellus Shale law, DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday told NGI's Shale Daily.

"The best practices this group's document speaks to -- better on-site waste management practices, more recycling of wastewater, progressive fracturing fluid disclosure, and protecting private water supplies -- are vital concepts of responsible gas development," Sunday said.

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