PITTSBURGH — Officials for the Center for Sustainable Shale Development have announced it is officially open for business.
Officials said Tuesday that CSSD’s certification program is now accepting applicants, a process open to all oil and gas operators in the Appalachian Basin.
The certification program is based on 15 performance standards focusing on the protection of air, climate, water and waste, setting up limitations for drilling flowback, flaring, diesel fuel usage on drilling sites, emissions, storage tanks for flowback, groundwater protection, well casing design, wastewater disposal and impoundment integrity, among others.
The Pittsburgh-based CSSD also announced it has hired Bureau Veritas, a French global testing and inspection firm, to review drillers’ applications. Drilling companies can gain certifications in Air & Climate, Waste & Water, or both, while auditors’ evaluation of each company’s application is expected to take 3-6 months, officials said. Results of each company’s audit will be available on CSSD’s website.
“My vision for now that this is complete and is fully formed, it’s the moment to walk it around,” said CSSD interim director Andrew Place in a conference call Tuesday. “I don’t have hesitation that since we’ve started building, (operators) have come and will come.”
When CSSD first entered the scene last year, announcing its set of 15 best practice standards and the aforementioned — albeit voluntary — certification for oil and gas companies, criticism from both sides abounded. Industry sources spoke out against more regulation, while environmentalists labeled the effort as “greenwashing.”
But the center, which touts itself as “promot(ing) collaborative efforts by a diverse and comprehensive group of stakeholders to address the imperatives for prudent development of shale gas resources,” has a varied showing, in terms of both founding members and board members.
Founding members include Chevron, Clean Air Task Force, Consol Energy, Environmental Defense Fund, EQT Corp., Group Against Smog and Pollution, Heinz Endowments, PennFuture, Penn-sylvania Environmental Council, Shell and the William Penn Foundation; while CSSD’s 12-member board includes representatives from industry, environmental and philanthropic sectors.
A spokesman for Shell said the company will apply for CSSD certification in the second quarter of 2014, a process it expects to take six months. Place said he also expects EQT to apply in the spring.
But not everyone is on board. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club have criticized the center’s efforts, saying it isn’t meaningful and that a voluntary program is no substitute for tough state or federal rules. Some industry companies, like Chesapeake Energy, have suggested that there’s no need to go beyond existing state regulations, and have said they won’t join or support CSSD.
Meanwhile, Place has spent the better part of the past year splitting time between his position as the corporate director of energy and environmental policy at EQT Corp. and his post at CSSD, both located in the EQT building in Downtown Pittsburgh.
As far as his plans and hopes for CSSD’s future, it’s a bit dependent on the industry getting on board.
“In the long run, I would judge success (in that) we had a meaningful section of the industry in the Appalachian Basin participating,” Place said. He also said he hopes that CSSD’s certification and best practice standards will eventually infiltrate other parts of the country, even the world.
But for now, it’s time to pass the baton.
Also on Tuesday, CSSD officials named their new executive director, Susan LeGros, a lawyer from Philadelphia who has worked with both the industry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
LeGros, the first full-time leader of the center, will be tasked with maintaining harmony among the coalition of environmental groups and drilling companies that have pledged to work together to improve environmental standards for natural gas drilling.
One of her first orders of business will be to meet with all CSSD’s member groups — including the Heinz Endowments, Chevron Corp. and the Clean Air Task Force — to hear their priorities and set a strategy, she said. Then comes the center’s long-term work, to help ensure drillers work responsibly.
And others from CSSD’s camp agree — there’s much work to still be done.
“There’s real integrity to this effort, but the work doesn’t stop here,” said Jared Cohon, chairman of CSSD’s Board of Directors and president emeritus of Carnegie Mellon University. “CSSD will add new performance standards over time and will periodically update the existing standards to ensure they continue to set a new, higher bar for operators in the Appalachian region.” ___