Drilling boom/environment alliance takes step forward

You have the scenario in your mind. The natural gas drilling companies have come to ravage our land to extract great profits in the reserves under it, oblivious to any environmental harm.

We have never bought that convenient labeling, but the gas drilling firms nevertheless have suffered from preconceived notions.

Maybe a new cooperative agreement between the drillers and policymakers will begin to dent the hardened view of the companies.

Some of the nation’s biggest oil and gas companies agreed to a voluntary set of tough new standards for fracking in the Northeast. While the new standards could lead to a major expansion of drilling, they also are stricter than existing state and federal regulations.

The new program will include a 12-member panel of environmentalists, industry representatives and independent figures who will review compliance performance of the drillers. Ultimately, if the performance meets the new standards, it will be given something akin to a seal of approval by the Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Development. That organization is a joint creation of environmentalists and the energy industry.

The standards include limits on emissions of methane and the flaring, or burning off, of unwanted gas; reductions in engine emissions; groundwater monitoring and protection; improved well designs; stricter wastewater disposal; the use of less toxic fracking fluids; and seismic monitoring before drilling begins. This self-monitoring punches a hole in the ill-conceived party line that the companies are unaccountable carpetbaggers, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t surprise us. Smart companies these are smart companies know environmental integrity is an integral part of their long-term success.

We believe most drilling companies are inherently respectful of the environment to begin with.

We will say what we’ve been saying for years: It is possible for the natural gas boom and a healthy environment to coexist.