By Dan Packel
A Pennsylvania-based trade group focused on promoting development of the Marcellus Shale on Wednesday released new guidelines for drilling wells and engaging in hydraulic fracturing, two of the most critical aspects of the shale development process.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition’s newest guidance focuses on the areas of drilling and “completions” and aims to provide guidance to operators. The group emphasized that the steps outlined do not establish binding requirements.
“While a host of critically important steps are required to bring a shale well into production, the drilling phase and hydraulic fracturing and completions process are certainly two of the most crucial,” MSC Chief Executive Officer Kathryn Klaber said in a statement. “This guidance document, along with the commonwealth’s world-class regulatory framework, will help further ensure that these important operations are carried out safely, responsibly and efficiently, and in a way that makes certain we continue to get this historic opportunity right, both now and for generations to come.”
The MSC, which counts Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Chesapeake Energy Corp. among its members, first began rolling out the guidelines in 2012, initially laying out 11 key steps to help operators improve site planning, development and restoration.
A number of the recommended practices advanced in the latest release have also emerged in legislation pending in the Pennsylvania Legislature or mirror regulations that have already gone into effect.
For example, a suggestion that drillers prepare a regional spill and emergency response plan that includes the ability to access key equipment and material in a timely manner follows a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regulation that well operators file GPS coordinates of their wells and access roads with the DEP, post clear signs and develop emergency response plans.
The guidelines also step into the contested territory of the disclosure of the makeup of fracking fluids.
A Pennsylvania state senator has introduced legislation requiring that natural gas drillers disclose the content of chemicals used in fracking to doctors of patients suffering from exposure to the fluids. Earlier, a Pennsylvania doctor sued the state’s attorney general, the secretary of the state’s DEP and the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission in federal court, claiming that the current law prevents him from warning patients of the possible health risks associated with exposure to fracking chemicals.
The guidelines ask operators to commit to transparency by revealing as much as they can about the additives to fracking fluids, while respecting related intellectual property rights, and proprietary and confidential business information.
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