We sat down with Lydia Work, Principal Chemist at Environmental Standards, Inc., to learn more about the environmental consulting company and discuss their capabilities in assisting oil and natural gas companies in the Appalachian region. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q. To start, could you introduce Environmental Standards and give a brief history of your practice?
Environmental Standards was founded in 1987 by Rock Vitale to provide environmental data quality assurance consulting. We’re broken into 4 divisions: chemistry, data management, geoscience, and environmental health & safety (EHS). Our largest division is chemistry, which I am technically part of. But I dabble in each division. We are not a laboratory.
Our headquarters, or “the mothership” as I like to call it, is in Valley Forge, Pa., which is where I am located, but we have a presence in eight different states, including Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Tennessee, Illinois, Virginia, New Jersey, South Carolina, West Virginia and Georgia. We primarily do domestic laboratory audits, but we also do international laboratory audits as well.
Q. How did Environmental Standards come to develop the practice in the Appalachian Basin?
What we’ve done for MSC specifically involves our analytical method development practice. For example, maybe there’s a weird contaminant or something new that’s come up and there’s not really a good laboratory test method for it. And that is the case for the MSC with dissolved methane in groundwater. That topic has generated a lot of press. And the industry was having a problem with the EPA not having a method to test dissolved methane in groundwater, so they were getting wild results – ones they couldn’t count on and couldn’t find consistencies between labs. The MSC then hired Environmental Standards to start a very rigid, scientifically based study. We ran control samples and, from there, developed a good test method. We’re at the stage now of method approval with ASTM and the EPA. The industry here wants good data to rely on to make decisions, and that’s the role that Environmental Standards is playing in this region.
Q. How do you support your clients in the energy space?
Well, a lot of industries – including energy – rely on laboratory data to make decisions, whether it’s compliance or performance decisions, etc. Essentially, we are a third-party data quality assurance consultant, so we’ll take a look at the laboratory data, validate it and determine if it’s usable. Sometimes we even get into forensics in the event that there is a contamination. If that’s the case, we can determine who generated the contamination, how old it is, and other characteristics.
Many of our energy clients will hire us to do laboratory audits or other vendor management services. We also do quality assurance planning for clients dealing with the EPA or a state regulator and help write quality assurance plans.
Q. What would you say differentiates Environmental Standards from other engineering and environmental consultancy firms?
I would say the high standard of employees we hire – we actually hire chemists and train them. We don’t hire non-degreed people; they have to have a chemistry degree. But it’s interesting – there aren’t really any other companies out there that do exactly what we do, we are truly a niche firm. There are hundreds of firms that do geoscience work, for example, but that department here sometimes get hired out as a third party; we’ll do field audits to make sure the sampling is being done correctly. We’re not biased; we represent and protect the user and owner of the data.
Q. What value have you experienced since becoming a member of the MSC?
It’s always great to know what’s going on in the industry – what’s driving decisions, what other companies’ cares and/or concerns are. For me, as a woman, it’s been about relationships. You’re networking and building relationships with very respected professionals. Some are nerdy scientists, such as myself, but others are executives making pretty big decisions. It really is about the information and the relationships.
Based upon my interactions with the MSC, my opinion is that they truly do care. They care about good science and want to do it right.
Q. If there is one thing you want to tell a neighbor or friend who is unfamiliar with the industry, what would that be?
Well, I moved to eastern Pennsylvania from the very energy-centric state of West Virginia, and I’m surprised by what people don’t know here. I honestly think some believe it’s a magic wand that’s turning the lights on. They forget – or don’t realize – that there’s pipes below them delivering that gas to their stove. So, I would say there’s a lot of hard work and a lot of people involved in getting people this very important thing – energy. And the people who are behind that pipeline are good people. They’re just like you and I. With politics, there’s such a division and a lack of understanding between groups. I think we need to be more open minded and understand what the industry is actually doing.
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