There is no doubt that shale gas drilling is controversial. Many environmental groups have been very active in opposing the drilling techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing, that are necessary to develop shale gas. These groups have been successful in getting fracking banned in some jurisdictions.
Amid the controversy that is inherent in shale gas drilling, several large energy companies have teamed up with environmental groups and philanthropic organizations to form the Center for Sustainable Shale Development ("CSSD"). The goal of the CSSD is to ensure safe and environmentally responsible development of shale gas in the Appalachian Basin. In order to accomplich this mission, the CSSD has devised 15 rigorous performance standards designed to reduce the effect of shale gas on the environment. The standards include air and climate standards, including limitations of flaring, use of "green completions", reduced engine emissions, and emissions controls on storage tanks. The are also water performance standards that focus on maximizing water recycling, developing groundwater protection plans, closed loop drilling, well casing design, groundwater monitoring, waste water disposal, impoundment integrity, and reduced toxicity fracturing fluid. Later in 2013, the CSSD will provide a third-party auditing service that will certify companies that meet and maintain these standards. The CSSD also plans to devise additional standards, including safety standards.
Perhaps the CSSD will help to quiet the controversy surrounding shale gas drilling by showing that natural gas can be extracted from shale in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. Perhaps energy companies that make the effort to be certified by the CSSD will be subjected to less resistance from the communities where they plan to drill. Perhaps jurisdictions who have banned fracking can be persuaded to make exceptions for those companies certified by the CSSD. The hope from here is that, ultimately, the CSSD helps to ease fears associated with shale gas drilling so that shale gas development in the Appalachian Basin can be expanded while also ensuring that the resource is developed in the most efficient and environmentally responsible manner.