In an unprecedented move, natural gas companies and environmental organizations are collaborating on voluntary standards that could calm the uproar over fracking.
Frustrated by endless delays of federal regulation of the industry while the negative impacts of this very lack of regulation add up in communities around the country, the two sides have called a truce in the Northeast.
It's simple: natural gas companies claim that fracking doesn't pollute the air and water while communities and environmental groups claim the opposite.
Now, all the gas companies have to do is prove their operations are clean.
Based in Pittsburgh, the new Center for Sustainable Shale Development has established a set of 15 strong performance standards, that if met, would ensure safe, environmentally responsible development of the Appalachian Basin's shale gas resources.
"This process has demonstrated for us that industry and environmental organizations, working together, can identify shared values and find common ground on standards that are environmentally protective," says Robert Vagt, president of The Heinz Endowments, one of the Center's funders.
The standards are exactly what people have been pushing for on the state and federal levels: they prevent methane emissions through flaring, require disclosure of chemicals used, require groundwater monitoring and protection, water recycling and strict wastewater disposal, etc.
The Center will provide independent, third-party certification of proposed fracking locations.
"This can be an opportunity for these companies to demonstrate their leadership" Mark Brownstein from the Environmental Defense Fund told FuelFix. "Anyone who claims to place a priority on good management practice should be rushing to sign up."
The Center will focus on Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, where fracking is proceeding at a frenzied pace, as well as other states that sit on the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations.
Shell Oil, Chevron, EQT Corp., Consol Energy have signed on, along with the Environmental Defense Fund, Clean Air Task Force, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Citizens or Pennsylvania's Future, Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation. Organizers are actively recruiting others.
"These standards are the state of the art, so we believe all Appalachian shale producers should join CSSD, and the standards should also serve as a model for national policy and practice," says Armond Cohen, Executive Director, Clean Air Task Force.
The report, Leaking Profits, shows that oil and gas companies can cut methane emissions 80% at a profit, using available technologies that would add $2 billion a year to the industry's bottom line. That would reduce US methane emissions by a third - equal to closing 50 coal-fired power plants.
Without capturing methane, natural gas is dirtier than coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are the Standards: