Responding in part to the public outcry over hydraulic fracturing (fracking), ASTM International has created a subcommittee to develop consensus standards that would provide best practices for the fracking of oil and natural gas wells in shale formations.

The Subcommittee D18.26 on Hydraulic Fracturing was formed in June as part of the ASTM Committee D18 on Soil and Rock. “We are currently in the process of populating the subcommittee,” said committee spokesman Robert Morgan. The subcommittee will include representatives from the oil and gas industry, environmental groups, engineering firms, federal regulators, state and local governments, permitting bodies and academia.

Morgan further noted that the subcommittee will include members from the committee, which is chaired by Ronald J. Ebelhar, senior principal with the engineering firm of H.C. Nuttin in Cincinnati, OH.

The stepped-up use of fracking to develop shale deposits has created a number of concerns in public and private sectors related to the safety of infrastructure and well construction, as well as the potential downstream impact on water, land and air resources.

The ASTM subcommittee will provide a “true neutral ground where all interested parties can have their voice heard and shape the direction of future standards for hydraulic fracturing,” said John T. Germaine of the department of civil and environmental engineering at Massachusetts Institute Technology, vice chairman of Committee D18 and head of the task force that formed D18.26.

“By participating on this subcommittee, stakeholders can freely air out issues and collaborate on standards that are fair and reasonable, provide guidance for all involved, and serve as the watchdog for the needs of the environment,” he noted.

“As the oil and gas industry looks to tap into the vast energy resources in shale formations across the U.S., the surge in hydraulic fracturing activity is expected to continue for years to come. New standards developed by D18.26 will help direct the work of the industry so that these operations can be performed to accepted best practices,” said Kenneth R. Bell, corporate manager of geotechnical and hydraulic engineering services at Bechtel Corp. and vice chairman of the ASTM Committee D18.

The subcommittee is planning to develop standards in several areas, including:

Morgan said he didn’t know which areas the subcommittee would tackle first. “One person expressed an interest in testing properties of fracking sand,” Morgan told NGI’s Shale Daily.

The first meeting of the subcommittee will be in January at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Jacksonville, FL. The subcommittee will meet at least twice a year, or it could meet more often, depending on the agenda, Morgan said.

In an attempt to bring uniformity to the exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the shale plays, a number of organizations made up of industry participants have set about developing lists of best practices in recent months.

In May a consortium of 11 producers released recommended standards and practices on everything from the preparation of a regional spill and emergency response plan to the use of fracking fluids, as well as for local relations and well site selection (see Shale Daily, May 2). The consortium, known as the Appalachian Shale Recommended Practices Group (ASRPG), said its recommendations were consistent with those made in the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s final report, which was released last November, and a National Petroleum Council report issued last September (see Shale Daily, Nov. 11, 2011; Sept. 16, 2011). Both reports cited regional differences in geology, land use and water resources in basins, the group said. And given those findings, the ASRPG said its recommended standards and practices reflect the existing primacy of state regulation over shale development.

The ASRPG’s recommendations follow the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s (MSC) release of its first recommended practices report, which focused on drill site planning, as well as developing and restoring the landscape once operations are complete (see Shale Daily, April 30). In July the MSC laid out a blueprint for how small- and medium-sized businesses can take advantage of the opportunities provided within the current U.S. natural gas development boom by releasing the second in a series of recommended practices aimed at bolstering the Marcellus Shale region’s supply chain.

Fifty-five investment organizations and institutional investors with nearly $1 trillion in assets under management are pushing for implementation of “best practices” for fracking, according to a trio of shareholder groups — Boston Common Asset Management, the Investor Environmental Health Network and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility — which are spearheading the effort (see Shale Daily, May 21).