Environmentalists, Drillers Reach 'Truce' For Fracking Standards Four major drilling companies, including Shell and Chevron, and several environmental groups have agreed on 15 voluntary standards for cleaner drilling practices in the Appalachian Basin. But some environmental groups are skeptical about the effort because the standards are voluntary.
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Environmentalists, Drillers Reach 'Truce' For Fracking Standards

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Environmentalists, Drillers Reach 'Truce' For Fracking Standards

Environmentalists, Drillers Reach 'Truce' For Fracking Standards

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You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Some environmentalists and energy companies have crafted a truce when it comes to natural gas development. They had been at each other's throats in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia over the boom in hydraulic fracturing.

Now, as NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, they've agreed on standards for cleaner fracking.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are transforming the rural Appalachian Basin into a sprawling industrial zone.

BRUCE NIEMEYER: It's, quite frankly, a game changer for the nation in terms of energy supply, and it's drawn to it, you know, a lot of attention.

SHOGREN: Bruce Niemeyer is president of Chevron's Appalachian unit.

NIEMEYER: In order to realize the benefits in the long term, as an industry, we need to go about development in a responsible way.

SHOGREN: Many environmental groups have been complaining that's not what the companies have been doing. They accuse drilling companies of poisoning the air and water. Chevron hopes to put an end to those claims. Chevron and Shell are among the four major drilling companies that have been working for two years with an assortment of environmental groups. They've hammered out 15 different standards for protecting the air and water in the region while all this drilling is going on.

Andrew Place is corporate director of energy and environmental policy at EQT Corporation, another big drilling company in the region. Place says the idea is that companies like his will be audited to see if they're complying with the new standards.

ANDREW PLACE: It's equivalent to an accounting firm auditing a company or an individual account.

SHOGREN: Place says he knows it can help allay landowners' fears because he owns a farm in western Pennsylvania, close to drilling operations.

PLACE: It matters to me that I have independent corroboration that these procedures are being done around us in a safe manner that I can have assurance of.

SHOGREN: Just how rigorous are these standards, I asked Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University who's been studying the impacts of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.

ROB JACKSON: The new standards are a mix of what's already being done, some positive new advances and I think a few missed opportunities.

SHOGREN: For example, these industries use vast quantities of water, and Jackson says it's great that the standards set targets for recycling 90 percent of this water. That will reduce how much freshwater the industry uses and how much dirty water it needs to get rid of. But he's disappointed that the standards don't include requirements to measure the air pollution that's pumped out from wells and equipment.

JACKSON: If a compound, a chemical like benzene or toluene, drifts downwind into where people live and into the air they breathe, it could have health consequences, and we need more information about that.

SHOGREN: Some environmental groups are skeptical.

KATE SINDING: We're very dubious that everybody would sign up.

SHOGREN: That's Kate Sinding, an attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council. So far, only a handful of drilling companies have agreed to the deal.

SINDING: This is an industry that for the most part has shown itself not to be trustworthy, and so certification standards are nice, but they're no substitute for real enforceable rules and regulations at the federal level and the state level.

SHOGREN: Mark Brownstein represents Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups involved in the new voluntary standards. He says the jury is out on whether the standards will safeguard the air and the water, but he says hydraulic fracturing is happening across the country.

MARK BROWNSTEIN: And so the question at the end of the day is not whether you like fracking or don't like fracking. The real question is, if it's going to be done, are there ways to make sure that it's done properly? And we think that there are.

SHOGREN: The first audits of cleaner fracking are expected by the end of the year. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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