Amongst the noise and fury of claim and counter-claim, hyperbolic media rhetoric and fact-less, ad hominem arguments taking place as part of the North American energy debate, environmental organizations and oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania recently did something rather unusual, and almost beautiful.
They agreed to stop shouting at each other and instead, collaborate on a path forward for safely and responsibly developing the Appalachian Basin’s abundant shale gas resources.
The group created and funded the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) and announced 15 initial performance standards for unconventional exploration and development in the region, including the highly controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’.
The standards, which address the protection of air, water quality and climate, will form the foundation of the CSSD’s independent, third‐party certification process for operators and drill sites. What is particularly significant is CSSD founding parties are neither fringe groups nor minor players.
Environmental, industry heavyweights involved
Environmental Defense Fund is one of America’s top three environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), while Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) is that state’s most influential environmental campaign group. Other ENGOs involved include Clean Air Task Force, Pennsylvania Environmental Council and GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution).
Industry too is represented by heavyweights: Chevron and Shell need no introduction, while CONSOL Energy and EQT Corporation are established gas producers in the Appalachian Basin, which extends from New York State to Alabama. They’re joined by two major philanthropic foundations, Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation, along with former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman, former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill and the President of Carnegie Mellon University as CSSD board directors.
CSSD is not something that has been hastily cobbled together to try to temper growing public hostility to gas drilling. It is the result of two years of discussions where participants with diverse perspectives worked to establish a shared vision of performance and environmental risk minimization for natural gas development in the region.
The aim is that CSSD standards govern all operators and that the organization continuously raises the bar as technology and science progresses.
Finding common ground
CSSD proves companies and organizations with a range of opinions can find common ground even on something as contentious as shale gas.
There is an opportunity to collaborate in the oil sands, and here too, there is a precedent. The Canadian Boreal Initiative, for example, brings together diverse partners to develop solutions for conserving the Canada’s boreal forest, parts of which are in the oil sands region.
Another example is Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, which was created to bring industry together and further involve government, academia and the public in improving environmental performance in the oil sands. It’s a good start but there is ample opportunity to go further.
Meanwhile, congratulations to CSSD and the shale gas industry. As an oil sands operator, we’re inspired by your achievement as we continue to pursue common ground for the safe and responsible development of Canada’s oil sands resource.