Sustainable Shale Development: Environmentalists and producers joining forces

Two recent developments within the regions of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays reinforce what I have been saying all along: Shale-gas development or unconventional drilling can be done in an environmentally responsible way.

Early in February, Rich Cochran, president and CEO of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, outlined the conservancy’s initiative for what can be termed the sustainable development of the Utica and Point Pleasant Shale play in eastern Ohio. This announcement was followed in late March with the unveiling of a plan for implementing “Performance Standards” of shale development and an independent certification process by the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

The Western Reserve Land Conservancy is dedicated to preserving the natural resources of northern Ohio and is the largest organization of its type within the state. Since its creation in 2006, the WRLC has permanently protected more than 35,000 acres of natural areas and agricultural land in northern Ohio and has grown to be the largest organization of its type in Ohio and the eighth largest in the country.

In his keynote address at the Crain’s Shale Summit 2013, Cochran announced the WRLC’s plan to establish “Uncommon Ground for the Common Good” in which all stakeholders within the Utica-Point Pleasant region would come together to “articulate a vision” for the region that “will nourish and support vibrant and prosperous communities.”

The Western Reserve Land Conservancy initiative would identify and preserve the essential natural resources of working farms, forests, wildlife areas and water resources while at the same time provide appropriate areas for natural-gas infrastructure such as well pads, access roads, pipelines and processing plants.

The bottom line of the WRLC plan is to provide for development of shale gas while at the same time preserving and improving our natural surface resources so that after the gas has been extracted, we are left with the natural assets essential to long-term prosperity; productive farmland, clean water and healthy forests.

The Utica and Point Pleasant shale-gas play has attracted the big-league players of the oil and gas industry to our region. Environmentally responsible development of shale-gas resources requires action by the big-league players of conservation. The Western Reserve Land Conservancy has stepped up to the plate, and it deserves the support of the communities it serves. To find out more about the Western Reserve Land Conservancy visit its website at

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) is an independent organization with the mission to “support continuous improvement and innovative practices [of shale development] through performance standards and third-party certification.” It represents a collaborative effort of environmental organizations, energy companies and philanthropic foundations committed to responsible shale resource development.

Partners include the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, CONSOL Energy, Chevron, Shell, Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation. The CSSD partners have collaborated to develop a certification process that addresses 15 performance standards for sustainable shale development.

The certification process, conducted by an independent auditing firm, would evaluate shale-gas development companies against CSSD standards and assign the rankings of “Certified,” “Certified with Conditions” or “Not Certified.” In essence, the certification process is similar to the Underwriters Laboratories process for product safety testing and certification or the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process for energy efficiency in building design.

The CSSD identifies 15 performance standards that fall into the four basic categories of wastewater, pits and impoundments, ground water protection and air quality.

Wastewater performance standards addresses wastewater discharge into streams and the recycling of flowback and produced water, but does not prohibit wastewater disposal by deep well injection.

Pits and impoundment performance standards apply to drilling fluids, flowback and produced water. The standards require closed-loop or steel containment structures for the handling, mixing and circulation of oil-based drilling fluids (drilling mud). The use of centralized impoundments for flowback and produced water require the removal of free hydrocarbons and the use of double-liners and leak detection systems.

Groundwater protection performance standards are designed to protect ground water and surface water resources during and after drilling operations. The standards require a comprehensive risk analysis, characterization of the geology, well-pad design standards, development and implementation of ground and surface water monitoring plans, proper design and installation of well casing and cement and the periodic monitoring of water quality for a period of at least one year after completion of the well. Perhaps most important, the standards also prohibit the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluids and require public disclosure of chemical constituents used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.

Air quality performance standards cover a wide range of environmental and energy use concerns including the flaring of gas, diesel-powered generator and compressor fuels and emissions, volatile organic compound emissions from well-pad storage vessels, compressor maintenance and freshwater transport-truck emissions.

Visit for more information about the center for Sustainable Shale Development.

The overwhelming majority of citizens, environmentalists, community organizations and business leaders within the Marcellus and Utica-Point Pleasant Shale regions recognize the importance of shale-gas resources and are willing to support the development of the resources provided it does not bring unnecessary environmental risk, and the natural areas, farmland, forests and water resources essential to our continued prosperity are not compromised. The leadership and vision of organizations such as the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the Center for Sustainable Shale Development provide the foundation of the pathways to a future where shale-gas development, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability can co-exist.