The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has allowed itself “to be co-opted by industry interests on the issue of hydraulic fracturing [fracking] for shale gas,” and does not speak for local communities on the issue, representatives of 67 grassroots organizations said Wednesday.

EDF’s participation in the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), which recently began issuing drilling standards to protect air and water quality in the Marcellus Shale, was disheartening to “those of us concerned with charting a rational and sustainable energy policy for the United States,” according to a letter to signed by all of the organizations and sent to EDF President Fred Krupp.

“The very use of the word ‘sustainable’ in the name is misleading, because there is nothing sustainable about shale oil or shale gas,” they said. “These are fossil fuels, and their extraction and consumption will inevitably degrade our environment and contribute to climate change. Hydraulic fracturing, the method used to extract them, will permanently remove huge quantities of water from the hydrological cycle, pollute the air, contaminate drinking water and release high levels of methane into the atmosphere…While EDF is free to partner with the gas industry in CSSD, we feel it is important that the press and the public clearly understand that neither EDF nor CSSD represents the environmental and public health communities on the subject of shale oil and gas extraction.”

Among those signing the letter were the Civil Society Institute, Earthworks, Friends of the Earth (US), Greenpeace, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Gasland director Josh Fox, and anti-fracking advocates Mark Ruffalo, Debra Winger and Robert Kennedy Jr., along with dozens of small organizations from across the country.

In a response issued Wednesday afternoon, Krupp defended EDF’s participation in CSSD.

“We have made it clear that there are places where fracking should never be permitted. But if fracking is going to take place anywhere in the U.S. — and clearly it is — then we need to do everything in our power to protect the people living nearby. That includes improving industry performance in every way possible. In our view, CSSD, a coalition that includes environmental organizations, philanthropic foundations, energy companies and other stakeholders, is one way to do that.”

EDF has no intention of backing out of the fledgling CSSD, Krupp said. “CSSD is just getting started. The 15 performance standards issued so far are only a beginning, and do not address all of the challenges of unconventional gas development. CSSD will evolve these and other standards over time — and only time will tell how effective this effort is.

“We recognize that not everyone in the industry will step up voluntarily, and that some in the industry may not follow through on their commitments. EDF reserves the right to walk away if CSSD proves to be unproductive, but we are forging ahead with our partners in this effort because we are committed to doing everything we can to protect the people in harm’s way.”

When it was launched in March, the CSSD was billed as a bilateral effort to ensure safe and environmentally responsible development of the Appalachian Basin’s shale gas resources (see Shale Daily, March 21).

The Pittsburgh-based center is going to provide producers with certification of performance standards for shale development, according to its members, which include, in addition to EDF, Chevron Corp., Consol Energy Inc., EQT Corp., Royal Dutch Shell plc, Clean Air Task Force, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and Pennsylvania Environmental Council, as well as two philanthropic organizations: The Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was named to serve as the center’s chairman.

But almost immediately there was an outcry from the environmental side of the aisle (see Shale Daily, March 25). 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.