University of Pittsburgh
August 15, 2013

Shale Gas Roundtable Releases Final Report

Roundtable supported by Pitt’s Institute of Politics emphasizes consensus building in issuing recommendations for shale gas development in Southwestern Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH—Following two years of study and dialogue, the Shale Gas Roundtable has released a report promoting increasing research, modernizing state laws and regulations, and building relationships across sectors to support environmental protection, quality of life, and economic development goals for the region.

The 26-member Roundtable, comprising diverse representatives from throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania and assisted in research and administrative tasks by the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics, has set forth recommendations for the improvement of unconventional oil and gas development in Pennsylvania.

Cochaired by Carnegie Mellon University President Emeritus Jared Cohon and Jim Roddey, principal at ParenteBeard LLC and former Allegheny County Executive, the Shale Gas Roundtable focused on unconventional oil and gas development in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in 10 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties that together contain approximately one-third of all Pennsylvania unconventional wells drilled over the last decade. The 26 Roundtable members, listed in the report, represent a variety of regional constituencies, including environmental organizations, industry, higher education, foundations, and other civic leadership.

Roundtable cochair Jim Roddey states, “The ideas and recommendations included in this final report were built on extensive research and cross-sector consensus building. We believe that the recommendations deserve serious consideration from regional, state, and national elected and civic leaders as they make critical decisions about effectively and safely managing Pennsylvania shale gas development.”

The Shale Gas Roundtable was created in the fall of 2011 to fulfill a three-part mission: to build and sustain relationships among interested parties in order to support environmental protection and economic development goals; to identify high-priority focus areas; and to develop recommendations that promote improved management and outcomes from unconventional oil and gas development in the region.

The cochairs write in the report,

Our central question was this: As a region, how can we most effectively and responsibly safeguard our communities and environment, grow our economy, and manage unconventional oil and gas development? Our members recognized the value judgments and trade-offs inherent in attempting to answer this question and the balancing act that would be necessary to make progress. Issues such as the use of natural gas, water resources management, air quality impacts, infrastructure maintenance, housing, and community quality of life quickly entered our conversations.

Cochair Jared Cohon adds that, “The Roundtable efforts are unique given the diversity of our participants, each member bringing an important perspective but also a strong desire to make progress on these issues. For example, we quickly realized that while many stakeholders agree on getting shale gas development right, there has not been consensus on what that means in action. Early in our deliberations, the Roundtable members were able to agree on a common-sense framework for ‘getting it right’ that includes a strong regulatory system that adequately protects the environment and our local communities; the development and widespread industry use of best management practices and performance standards; substantial investments in technological and operational innovation to minimize impacts; and balanced research to support the continual improvement of regulations, standards, and technology.”

The Roundtable, aided by the Institute of Politics, completed an extensive review of laws, policies, regulations, scientific studies, and advocacy materials related to unconventional oil and gas development in Pennsylvania and conducted interviews with stakeholder groups in both Pennsylvania and nearby states. The Roundtable also created a “Shale Gas University” that provided members with learning opportunities such as field tours of drilling sites and compressed natural gas fueling stations, along with other educational experiences that supplemented their understanding of key issues. The Roundtable members met regularly to share their findings and incorporate stakeholder feedback.

Based on its framework, the Roundtable identified four key areas in which it has targeted its recommendations. These include:

  • Increasing the amount and enhancing the perception of research on the impacts of unconventional oil and gas development and ensuring that the resulting knowledge is used for the improvement of regulations and best practices;
  • Developing a balanced proposal for modernizing the 1961 Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Conservation Law, updating the law to account for modern technologies; limiting surface disturbance; and avoiding wasted oil and gas resources;
  • Protecting water resources in Pennsylvania by improving management and regulation across a number of areas including water sourcing, groundwater protection, and wastewater treatment and disposal; and
  • Developing recommendations to minimize the environmental and surface footprints of midstream construction, improve pipeline safety, and enhance the planning and coordination of siting decisions.

The Roundtable also identified eight broader recommendations for state and federal government, industry groups, and environmental agencies that emerged from its overall work. These recommendations state that:

  • Pennsylvania should increase investments in its oil and gas data infrastructure, improving its accuracy, functionality, and transparency;
  • The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) should provide annual reports on its oil and gas activities, as well as develop regulatory staffing parameters;
  • The state should restructure the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board in order to expand the board’s scope beyond technical issues and to diversify its membership, which is currently limited to individuals with geologic and petrochemical backgrounds;
  • The state should continue evaluating the ability of budget support and permit fees to support the costs of DEP oil and gas regulation;
  • DEP should participate in regular, comprehensive State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, Inc. (STRONGER) reviews in order to benefit from independent assessments of the state’s oil and gas regulations and to identify opportunities for further improvement;
  • The federal and state governments, along with stakeholder groups, should support efforts to increase balanced research on and rigorous monitoring of the possible impacts of unconventional oil and gas development;
  • Government, industry groups, and regional universities should support the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), headquartered in Southwestern Pennsylvania, as the premier national research hub working on unconventional oil and gas technology and innovation; and
  • DEP should support and strengthen cross-sector and industry efforts to develop best management practices and other standards for unconventional oil and gas development.

The Shale Gas Roundtable members and staff have already begun the process of sharing the report’s findings and recommendations with key stakeholder groups and with leaders in Pennsylvania government. The Roundtable anticipates that this process will continue through additional briefings and dialogue as needed.

The full Shale Gas Roundtable report can be read at http://www.iop.pitt.edu/shalegas.       

The Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh delivers timely information about a wide variety of issues affecting the Southwestern Pennsylvania region to both public and private decision makers, and the public that they serve. The institute provides a neutral and off-the-record forum where knowledge and diverse viewpoints are discussed, digested, enriched, and applied to the goals of promoting improved quality of life, government efficiency, and economic vitality in the region.

Roundtable cochair Jared Cohon served as president of Carnegie Mellon University for 16 years, ending his tenure in June 2013. A water resources and environmental engineer, he has been involved in a range of energy issues. He is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and has also chaired several committees on the region's water issues.  

Roundtable cochair Jim Roddey was Allegheny County’s first chief executive, serving from 2000-04. He currently serves as the chairperson of the Allegheny County Republican Committee. Roddey has a 50-plus–year business career and has also been very active in the civic community of Southwestern Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Texas Christian University and is a former captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. He currently serves as a principal at ParenteBeard, LLC. 

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8/13/13/mab/cjhm