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More Rigorous Fracking Standards Designed by Drillers and Environmentalists

A two-year negotiating process has culminated with a set of 15 voluntary standards to make for more responsible fracking to safeguard the environment in Appalachia. Some environmental groups are skeptical, and not all energy companies are on board.
March 24, 2013, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Elizabeth Shogren reports on the agreement (both audio and text is available) by four major energy companies and several environmental groups. "Independent experts will visit their operations and determine if they are complying with the new standards."

It's, quite frankly, a game changer for the nation in terms of energy supply, and that's drawn to it a lot of attention," says Bruce Niemeyer, head of Chevron's Appalachia unit. "In order to realize the benefits in the long term, as an industry we need to go about development in a responsible way."

Mark Brownstein represents Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups involved in the new voluntary standards. He says "the jury is out" on how many companies will agree to audits, and whether the standards will effectively safeguard the air and water.

The idea of 'cleaner fracking' may sound like an oxymoron to some in the environmental community, as Susan Brantley and Anna Meyendorff recently wrote in their op-ed summarized here. However, auditing the wells will provide the "empirical evidence" they write is necessary to assess how clean fracking is, and to compare it with other types of drilling and energy sources.

"The standards are a mix of what's already being done", says Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University who studies the effects of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania. The agreement and the auditing are new, though, as is the spirit of environmentalists and energy companies collaborating to achieve them.

Kevin Begos of The Associated Press writes that the newly devised standards "appear to go further than existing state and federal pollution regulations". If the drilling operations meet the new standards and pass the audits, they will receive a rating from the new Center for Sustainable Shale Development. See their press release, "Center Formed to Provide to Shale Gas Producers Independent Certification of Performance Standards" (PDF).

In another fracking news, "(t)he Pittsburgh area is buzzing today about a high-profile environmental pollution case linked to fracking", according to Scott Tong of American Public Media's Marketplace. (Audio and text available).

A family's "drinking water contained a chemical linked to cancer - acrilonitrile - 30 times the safe level. Acrilonitrile has been used in fracking." They reached a settlement in private in which the company paid the family $750,000, admitting no fault."

And while the plaintiffs also slam regulators for being asleep, Pennsylvania's environment secretary Michael Krancer says the rules are enforced.

With the new agreement reached in the first story, more light will be placed on fracking, which should prove beneficial for residents, drilling companies, and regulators.

Note the animated You-Tube, 1:29-minute video, "How it Works: Hydraulic Fracturing" that illustrates the fracking/horizontal drilling process. 

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, March 21, 2013 in National Public Radio
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