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Published: Tuesday, 1/21/2014

Center seeks shale operators


PITTSBURGH — The Center for Sustainable Shale Development, an almost year-old organization that unites four major energy companies with environmental nonprofits and foundations, has a new director and has begun accepting applications from Marcellus Shale operators.

But it’s not entirely clear the industry will embrace the independent push to set standards beyond those established by government regulators.

The center, launched last March, is beginning its promised certification program where applicants agree to undergo a third-party audit to prove they comply with 15 standards. The standards include limiting emissions of volatile organic compounds from wastewater impoundments, eliminating methane venting into the atmosphere, and monitoring water quality around wells.

Audits are expected to last between three and five months and cost between $30,000 and $100,000.

The center’s new director, Susan LeGros, is hoping the first batch of applications from the organization’s founding members — Shell, Chevron, Consol, and EQT — will inspire other operators to join.

“I was very impressed with and subscribe totally to the approach that center has articulated — to try to bring the disparate parties together and identify what can we agree on,” Ms. LeGros said.

An environmental lawyer, Ms. LeGros said she educated herself on Marcellus Shale “and I came to the conclusion a while ago that like so many things, it’s really a question of how it’s done and what actions can be taken to minimize risks — what risks are acceptable and what risks are not.”

She starts her new job on Feb. 3.

For now, nonmember companies may not rush to participate in the center’s certification process.

“We see no need to do so,” said Susan Oliver-Stough, a spokesman for Tulsa-based WPX Energy. “We are confident we are operating in an environmentally responsible manner.”

Calgary-based Talisman Energy looked at the center’s standards and decided it was either meeting or exceeding best practices in the field, said spokesman April Crane. Matt Pitzarella, Texas-based Range Resources spokesman, said the company prefers to be part of efforts “that can most effectively transition best practices into required regulation.”

Stanley Berdell, president of BLX Inc., said he’d like to pursue the certification, but he said he has a small staff and limited resources.

Bureau Veritas, an international testing and certification agency, will conduct the audits. Auditors will visit well pads, impoundments, and compressor stations, giving a company 48 hours notice. They’ll also review written procedures and the tracking of waste and emissions.

Companies are certified for two years, but auditors return periodically for spot checks.

“[It’s] so that you can’t game the system,” said Andrew Place, EQT’s corporate chief of energy and environmental policy who has been interim director of the center since it opened. “You can’t say we studied hard for that test and then we let it slide.”

Mr. Place said the final audit reports will be available at sustainableshale.org.

Nigel Hearne, president of Chevron Appalachia, said his company is “in the process of modifying our equipment and standard operating procedures to ensure compliance with all 15 center standards.”

Some of the standards overlap existing regulations. Others chart new territory, such as the requirement that certified companies monitor water quality within a 2,500 feet radius of a wellhead for at least one year after a well is completed.

Royal Dutch Shell expects to apply for certification during the second quarter of this year. EQT Corp. is reviewing its procedures, said David Cannon, deputy general counsel for government and environmental affairs.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Anya Litvak is a reporter at the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at: alitvak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.

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