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Shell certified as environmentally conscious driller

| Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
A common site throughout Washington County and other parts of Western Pennsylvania, an active gas drilling site sits on a small hillside surrounded by homes.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A common site throughout Washington County and other parts of Western Pennsylvania, an active gas drilling site sits on a small hillside surrounded by homes.

A partnership between environmentalists and shale gas producers awarded its second certification to an energy company for meeting the group's voluntary standards for environmentally conscious drilling in Appalachia, signaling progress in an effort some critics complained was slow to develop.

Royal Dutch Shell and the Center for Sustainable Shale Development planned to announce Wednesday that the company met the partnership's 15 standards for protecting air and water during gas drilling and production. In September, Chevron became the first company to gain certification.

“I think it manifests that we're really moving forward on what we said we were going to do,” said Susan LeGros, who became executive director of the Downtown center a year ago, just after it began accepting applications for certification.

Shell and Chevron are among four shale companies that founded the center with groups such as the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and The Heinz Endowments with the goal of building a bridge between industry and nonprofits, and setting environmental standards separate from government regulations.

“Our certification is external recognition of the tremendous strides Shell has made in this space over the last several years,” Mike DeWitt, general manager for Shell's operations in Appalachia, said in a statement.

Outside auditing firm Bureau Veritas reviewed how the company follows standards for limiting environmental impacts, and visited 17 well pads and other field operations in Tioga County. Shell, one of the largest energy companies in the world, is Pennsylvania's 12th biggest shale gas producer, with 337 active wells as of Dec. 31.

Critics have said the few certifications awarded by the center, to founding companies only, show a lack of support. Center leaders say they set tough standards that take time to meet, and that others will seek certification.

“This demonstrates that organizations with opposing views can work together. It's hard work, but through rational, fact-based conversation, we can reach common ground, and in the process, pull the whole industry forward in terms of responsibly developing resources,” said Michael Crothers, vice president of Shell North America Unconventionals.

The other industry participants in the center are Cecil-based Consol Energy Inc. and Downtown-based EQT Corp. Consol said in January it completed the audit process. EQT spokeswoman Linda Robertson said Tuesday the company plans to apply this spring.

The center keeps applicants secret until they attain certification, so LeGros declined to say if others have applied.

“I think all the participants in CSSD, not just the industry but the (nonprofits), are actively talking to their peers about how important the work we're doing is,” she said of efforts to recruit more companies and funders.

LeGros has pushed to find more foundations to join the center since new leadership at The Heinz Endowments withdrew its support last year. She said she has made progress but could not identify potential funders.

As it reviews companies for certification, the center is adjusting standards. Last month, it changed a water standard to allow companies to send wastewater from drilling to specialized treatment facilities.

Certification is valid for two years.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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