Yesterday a consortium of energy companies, environmental organizations, and philanthropic foundations announced that they have collaborated to form an organization — the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) — that will provide an independent, third-party certification process for shale developers. The CSSD is expected to focus on certifying operations in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions, chiefly in eastern states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

The CSSD also released yesterday its initial 15 performance standards, developed in discussions over the past two years. These standards will serve as the basis for the CSSD’s certification process. The standards focus on minimizing air and water pollution, and will later be expanded to include safety considerations. With respect to air emissions, the initial standards include: limitations on gas well flaring; use of “green completions”, including no-leak vales and piping; emission controls on storage tanks; and reductions in compressor and engine emissions. The CSSD water standards require: development of groundwater protection plans; recycling 90% of flowback and produced water within two years; utilization of a closed loop system for drilling fluids; improved impoundment integrity; well casing design requirements; and public disclosure of the components of hydraulic fracturing fluids. Some of these requirements, such as those relating to public disclosure of the chemical constituents used in well stimulation fluids, largely mirror those adopted by many states over the past several years.

The CSSD will operate as an independent entity with an initial budget of $800,000, to be funded in part by the participating energy companies and in part by other organizations. Its board is comprised of 12 members — 4 from industry, 4 from environmental groups, and 4 independent members. Energy companies can begin seeking certification from the CSSD starting later in 2013.

Media coverage of yesterday’s announcement and the CSSD performance standards can be found here, here, here, here, and here.