Three recent efforts – two private, and one public – could shape the future of U.S. shale gas and oil development. The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), an industry group, released Recommended Practices: Site Planning, Development and Restoration, offering general guidance for natural gas professionals developing or restoring shale plays in the Marcellus. Days later, the Appalachian Shale Responsible Producers Group (ASRPG), led by Andarko Energy, released their Recommended Standards and Practices, which again provides general guidance to well operators and shale play developers. Ohio Governor John Kasich has pushed legislation to the state’s legislature that the his office hopes will become a model for the rest of the country.
MSC’s best practice recommendations were drafted by coalition members and conservation groups, in consultation with regional stakeholders. The document is intended as “a reference aid,” and does not “impose binding requirements” or standards for coalition members. ASRPG’s recommendations are similarly non-binding, suggesting, for example, that operators “often choose to conduct their operations using standards and practices that exceed regulatory requirements.”
Both sets of recommended practices come at a time when the natural gas industry is under increasing scrutiny from community and environmental groups. Pennsylvania State Representative Jesse White has dismissed the MSC recommendations as a public relations maneuver, suggesting that practices recommended by the guidelines would be outlawed under Pennsylvania’s Act 13, parts of which are currently being challenged in court.
The regulatory framework offered by Ohio’s Governor has won praise from the Environmental Defense Fund, which described the legislation as “a pretty solid framework.” EDF, however, maintains that the language must be strengthened in areas covering drilling practices, transparency surrounding the chemicals used in fracking operations, and more. Oil and gas developers active in the state, however, are lobbying for changes to the legislation that would bring it more in line with current industry practices.
Are “best practices” and self-policing the answer to questions surrounding shale development? What are the key areas of tension between policymaker proposals and industry recommendations? How can industry, stakeholders, and policymakers better align efforts to optimize the outcomes of shale development?