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Diverse Shale Gas Roundtable Issues Recommendations

The Shale Gas Roundtable (SGR) -- a 26-member group that includes elected officials and representatives from the oil and gas industry, academia, environmentalists and philanthropic organizations -- has issued a list of recommendations to advance shale gas development in Pennsylvania.

Among the SGR's recommendations, perhaps the most striking was one to create a research organization that would study all aspects of shale development, but would be seen as unbiased by all stakeholders. SGR cited the Health Effects Institute -- a Boston-based nonpartisan research organization chartered in 1980 to study the health effects of air pollution -- as "the most relevant model" for such a research organization.

"[We believe] that substantial benefit can be secured through the creation of a scientifically rigorous, third-party entity with diverse funding streams that can support unconventional oil and gas research to inform sound regulatory and legislative decision making," the SGR said.

After considering more than 30 subject areas in the arena of shale development, the SGR said it had prioritized four areas for discussion: policy-relevant research, conservation and unitization, water management and midstream development. The SGR then arrived at eight core recommendations, six of which involve the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The roundtable said the DEP should:

  • Invest more in the infrastructure of its oil and gas database, to make improvements to accuracy, functionality and transparency;
  • Develop staffing requirements and begin publishing annual reports on oil and gas activities;
  • Expand and diversify the five-member Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board;
  • Regularly evaluate whether budget support from the General Assembly, coupled with revenue from permit fees, are enough to support the DEP's oil and gas operations;
  • Participate regularly with, and have comprehensive reviews from, the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations; and
  • Strengthen engagement with and support of various cross-sector and industry efforts to develop best management practices.

The SGR also recommended that the federal and state governments join various stakeholder groups and support efforts to increase unbiased research of the possible effects of unconventional shale development, and that government, industry and regional universities support the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Nels Johnson, one of the 26 panelists and deputy director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Nature Conservancy, told NGI's Shale Daily that the SGR's work so far was "a good start."

"We certainly agree that there is a need for much more rigorous, science-based, peer-reviewed work to review the uncertainties on a variety of impacts of shale gas development," Johnson said Friday. "The recommendations reflect a fairly broad consensus among the participants.

"All energy development has risks, and this country has an enormous appetite for energy. We are concerned about a range of impacts from different energy developments, including shale. We are specifically focused on habitat impacts. As shale gas development goes forward, we are trying to identify ways in which siting issues can be fully integrated with the [permitting] requirement process."

Another panelist, Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, said the leadership of the General Assembly, committee chairs and the governor himself were being briefed on the SGR's recommendations. He added that staff from the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics was attempting to contact "a broader level of legislators."

"They are very much one day into a roll out, educating people about the recommendations and seeing where there is traction -- legislative interest to introduce some of these recommendations in the General Assembly," Henderson said Friday.

Henderson described the meetings, which took place about every other month, as "collegial."

"It really fostered good relationships between academia, industry, environmental conservation and state government," Henderson said. "I think people are upbeat. It required people to look at an issue through someone else's perspective. That can only be helpful.

"This was a lengthy process, so these were people who were committed for the long haul. They spent a lot of time together. That will pay dividends going forward. There were a lot of relationships formed, trust that was earned, and that will be helpful in tackling these issues."

Established in September 2011, the SGR selected 10 counties in southwest Pennsylvania -- an area that represents one-third of the state's unconventional gas permits, wells drilled and gas production over the last 10 years -- as its geographic scope, but hopes to see its recommendations implemented across the whole states. The counties are Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Westmoreland and Washington.

The SGR is supported by the Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh. Its 26-members include representatives from Carnegie Mellon University, Washington & Jefferson College and Saint Vincent College.

Industry representatives to the SGR are Chevron Corp., Range Resources Corp., EQT Corp. and Consol Energy Inc. EQT's representative, Andrew Place, also serves as president for a new organization with a similar agenda, the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (see Shale DailyApril 11).

 Other panel members include state Rep. Pam Snyder (D-Carmichaels) and state Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Rochester). Caren Glotfelty, who served as senior program director of the Heinz Endowments until she was sacked on Aug. 8, was also a member (see Shale DailyAug. 7).

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