A novel partnership has emerged between energy firms involved in hydraulic fracturing, including Chevron, EQT Corp., and Royal Dutch Shell, and environmental groups usually opposed to fossil fuel development, including the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force, and the Group Against Smog and Pollution. These entities have come together to establish the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), which will provide independent, voluntary evaluations and certifications of shale gas developers. The center will establish standards to limit flaring, maximize water recycling, and reduce the toxicity of injection fluids.

The group began meeting two years ago in a collaborative, and sometimes contentious, process to establish 15 standards addressing groundwater protection, air emissions, and climate change. The next step for the group is to establish a system by which the standards will be rated. Certification of compliance with a standard will be valid for two years before a company has to re-verify compliance, and certification will require monitoring of processes by a neutral third party to ensure compliance.

The 15 currently-established standards include:

  1. Zero discharge of wastewater until CSSD adopts a standard for treating shale wastewater.
  2. Recycling flowback and produced water for use in drilling and fracturing.
  3. Closed loop containment of drilling fluids and flowback water, thereby eliminating the use of pits.
  4. Removal of free hydrocarbons from flowback and produced waters before storage, and use of impoundments with double-lined impermeable material and equipped with leak detection.
  5. Establishment of an Area of Review before drilling a well, in which the operator must conduct a study of subsurface geology and a corresponding risk analysis.
  6. Monitoring of existing water sources to demonstrate that water quality is not impacted by operations.
  7. Casing and cement standards that ensure complete isolation of the wellbore from surface waters and aquifers. Chemical constituents of well stimulation fluids must be publicly disclosed; however, a provision in the standard allows a firm to assert trade secret protection to prevent mandatory disclosure of this information.
  8. Well pad design that minimizes risk of contamination to water sources, and development of response and notification plans in preparation for a spill or release.
  9. Capture for sale of pipeline-quality gas, with certain exceptions. Gas not captured must be flared and not vented.
  10. Flaring requirements, including a 98% destruction efficiency of methane, and a prohibition on pit flaring.
  11. Establishment of emissions standards for nonroad dedicated diesel drilling rig engines and fracturing pump engines.
  12. Establishment of emissions standards for compressor engines used in unconventional drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
  13. Installation of controls for that achieve at least a 95% reduction in VOC emissions for all individual storage vessels with VOC emissions equal to or greater than 6 tpy.
  14. Establishment of standards for various equipment dedicated to unconventional activities, including reciprocating compressors and pneumatic controllers.
  15. Compliance deadlines for increased use of lower-emitting trucks to transport fresh or flowback water, limits vehicle idling, and requires use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.