Drilling Contractor Magazine – Environment and Drilling: It’s not one or the other

Industry building environmental stewardship into rigs, technologies, operations, enhancing emergency preparedness and public outreach

By Joanne Liou, associate editor

Recognizing industry’s relationship with and impact on the environment is cultivating a cultural shift as well as leading to more actions being taken, not only internally within the industry but externally in the public’s eye. Through public outreach and coalitions, such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), industry is actively engaging communities and promoting its operational transparency with fact-based communication. “That’s what differentiates us from those on the other side of the issue, who resort to fear rather than facts,” Steve Forde, vice president of policy and communications for the MSC, noted. The MSC, founded in 2008, comprises more than 300 member companies operating in the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays.

The coalition has published recommended practices (RPs) specific to the region, ranging from site planning, development and restoration to water pipelines. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link when you’re an organization as large as ours,” Mr. Forde said. “We want to make sure all those links are strong, and by raising the bar in the way these RPs do, we’re certain that we’re staying ahead of regulations that we’ll be responsible for complying with.” The coalition has several sister organizations across the US, such as the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association.

To ensure that wide-ranging perspectives are included, environmental and conservancy groups have participated in the development of the MSC’s RPs. For example, for site development and restoration, the American Chestnut Foundation, which supports the heritage of the chestnut tree common to parts of Pennsylvania, worked with the coalition to reintroduce the species to areas where development occurred, Mr. Forde explained. “We can restore these development locations as closely to the way they originally looked before.”

The coalition realizes that its message is only as effective as the number of people it reaches. In 2012, the group launched the LearnAboutShale.org project to provide information to the public in the greater Philadelphia area, where there is not any active drilling. “However, there is a huge population base, a number of influential policymakers, and it was very clear our industry needed to do a better job of communications to that particular part of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Forde said. “The more that we can show Pennsylvania that their land and our land are safe, their water and our water is safe, and we’re residents of this community as well, the more confidence we’ll continue to see.”

The website is just one example of how industry continues to respond to the public’s need  for more transparency, and the coalition recognizes legitimate questions exist across a variety of different stakeholders. “The best way to relate to the largest amount of people is to be straight with them. We give them the facts to describe the process, which has been perfected in the last decades, in hydraulic fracturing – exactly what takes place and what steps are in place to protect ground water. We’re responsible for participating in an honest conversation with them.”

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