Editor's Letter: A Busy Year for the Center for Sustainable Shale Development

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) was conceived in 2013 by a group of philanthropic foundations, environmental organizations and energy companies that came together to promote responsible development of shale gas resources in the Appalachian region. With all the controversy and polarization that fracking incites, an entity like CSSD represents a tremendous opportunity to bridge the gap between the energy industry and environmentalists.


By Angela Godwin, Chief Editor

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) was conceived in March 2013 by a group of philanthropic foundations, environmental organizations and energy companies that came together to promote responsible development of shale gas resources in the Appalachian region. Its guiding principle is that safe, sustainable shale development is achievable.

The following year, in February 2014, CSSD was open for business and by the fall had certified its first producer, Chevron.

To earn its CSSD certification, Chevron conducted a two-year preparatory process based on the Center's initial 15 Performance Standards for air and water. The water standards cover: maximizing water recycling; development of groundwater protection plans; closed loop drilling; well casing design; groundwater monitoring; wastewater disposal; impoundment integrity; and reduced toxicity fracturing fluid.

Over the past several months, CSSD has been quite busy. The organization announced an expansion in late February 2015 to its wastewater Performance Standard 1 to address the treatment of shale wastewater at permitted facilities. The original standard only addressed on-site treatment and disposal methods (e.g., recycling and underground injection). But the expansion, according to CSSD, "addresses what happens to an operator's wastewater when it leaves the site and goes to a treatment facility."

The group determined that discharge through a "Centralized Waste Facility" would be the best option, recognizing that facilities designed to treat shale wastewater are capable of treating that effluent to levels that meet or exceed receiving stream standards. The best available treatment technologies, CSSD said, include a combination of distillation and biological treatment, with reverse osmosis as needed. However, the organization acknowledged that treatment technologies are evolving quickly, so the standard affords some flexibility, provided that the facility can demonstrate that its treatment technology meets or exceeds the performance of those identified as best available in the standard.

"This expansion is ambitions in that it marks the first CSSD performance standard that goes beyond producer-controlled operations," said Susan LeGros, president of CSSD.

The organization has certified two additional producers so far this year: Shell and CONSOL Energy. Certification is valid for 24 months and all certified producers will be audited at least once during that time to ensure they are adhering to CSSD standards.

The casual observer might notice that all three of these energy companies -- Chevron, Shell, and CONSOL -- are also "Strategic Partners" and founding members of the Center. LeGros, in a press release, was quick to point out that "all producers operating in the Appalachian Basin region are eligible for and encouraged to apply for certification as a way to demonstrate their commitment to the highest performance standards."

With all the controversy and polarization that fracking incites, an organization like CSSD represents a tremendous opportunity to bridge the cavernous gap between the energy industry and environmentalists. The latter have, for the most part, been skeptical (to say the least) about CSSD's intentions. I, for one, am cautiously optimistic -- but I'd be heartened to see CSSD certify a company outside of its inner circle.

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