Our opinion: Surprising good news

It’s like finding out that Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh are dating.

But, in news just as shocking, but far more important and only slightly less likely, it appears that after two years of negotiations both sides of the environmental issues surrounding Marcellus Shale drilling have come together to cooperate on a voluntary set of standards that apparently satisfy the major players from both camps.

In essence, they will form a group not unlike Underwriters Laboratories (the folks who make sure your electrical appliances don’t burn down your house after you plug them in) that would be responsible for a voluntary independent review of operations.

If they pass the review, they will be given a stamp of approval from the new Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

Some of the heaviest hitters in Marcellus Shale development are on board, including Shell Oil, Chevron and Consol Energy, as are some of the most vocal environmental protection organizations, like the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

This is a far cry from the acrimony among the groups that was rampant during the early days of the Marcellus boom, when developers and environmentalists dug in their heels.

Please bear in mind that important word, voluntary. This is not law. It is being proposed to create law or additional governmental regulation.

During past debates on the issue of fracking, certain developers have maintained that they follow the highest environmental standards in their operations. This gives them a chance to prove it, since some of the standards of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development are actually higher than current state and federal regulations.

In other words, there is a shame factor at work here. A developer that doesn’t come up to muster or doesn’t submit to the center’s scrutiny might be seen as less than reputable, and perhaps more likely to run afoul of regulations that are part of current law. And, that could make potential financial backers nervous.

It still remains to be seen if the Center for Sustainable Shale Development will end the war between drillers and environmentalists, but it certainly looks like a promising truce.