By: Marion F. Werkheiser
Hydraulic fracturing, or the extraction of natural gas from rock formations called shale, has enabled the U.S. to become the largest natural gas producer in the world, ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia. The U.S., which for so long has been an importer of natural gas, is now poised to become an exporter. The shale gas industry will support more than 1.6 million jobs by 2035. The shale gas boom is fueling not only robust economic development, but also addressing national security concerns and providing a cleaner bridge fuel to renewable energy resources.
It is important to balance this development, which includes not only well pads but also pipelines, roads, and associated infrastructure, with protection for our historic and cultural resources. The Society for American Archaeology has estimated that more than 195,000 historic and cultural sites may be affected by shale gas development in just the nine currently active shale “plays” —a term used to describe areas where oil and gas companies are targeting exploration activity.
Many natural gas energy executives love and want to preserve our shared history. And preservation professionals understand the need for the development of sustainable sources of fuel. In an effort to bring these two groups together and ensure that shale gas development and historic preservation can coexist effectively, last fall folks from the natural gas industry and the preservation community founded the Gas and Preservation Partnership (GAPP). GAPP is an innovative nonprofit organization whose mission is to work collaboratively and pragmatically with both the preservation community and the energy industry to identify and properly manage historic and cultural resources while encouraging efficient exploration and development of energy reserves.
GAPP has identified some short-term goals:
- Educate the energy industry about the importance and professional practices of cultural resource preservation.
- Educate the preservation community about the importance and professional practices of energy development and independence.
- Create collaborative networks among energy and preservation leaders and encourage cross-sector support.
- Celebrate success stories and lessons learned from in-the-field energy experts and preservationists.
To reach these goals, GAPP has established four working groups composed of representatives of both the energy and the preservation community to address specific challenges and develop creative solutions. The organization then hopes to develop model voluntary practices for the protection of cultural resources informed by input from preservation and industry groups.
The approach is not without skeptics on both sides of the discussion.
Some members of the natural gas industry are concerned that coming to the table to discuss voluntary standards will lead to regulation. GAPP, however, believes it can achieve its goals without regulation, and that industry participation early and throughout this dialogue actually makes regulation less likely.
Some industry members also fear that having to take into account historic resources will add additional costs in time and money to projects. GAPP hopes to find low-cost ways of preserving resources and to demonstrate that the business costs of ignoring and then destroying such sites is actually much greater than early due diligence.
Other industry representatives feel that by joining this discussion they are tacitly admitting that the natural gas industry harms historic resources or does so disproportionately compared to other energy industries. Preservation leaders involved in GAPP recognize that there are many industries whose activities may impact historic resources, but GAPP is focused on energy industry impacts from shale gas development in part because exploration is occurring so rapidly that the potential for harm outpaces in speed, if not scale, harm from other industries. GAPP also recognizes that many companies are already going above and beyond their legal requirements as a matter of risk mitigation and good corporate citizenship.
Some preservationists, on the other hand, are wary of the natural gas industry and are concerned that working together could force uncomfortable compromises about which sites are “worth saving.” GAPP’s goal however is to protect more—not all—sites, and compromise from all stakeholders will be required.
The organization hopes that by having both groups working together it can build a level of trust and a comfort that will lead to better outcomes for historic and cultural sites. Indeed, industry leaders like Shell and Southwestern Energy, and preservation leaders like the Society for American Archaeology and the American Cultural Resources Association, have stepped up to take visible roles in GAPP, with top executives joining the board and by sponsoring a conference. Their leadership is inspiring others to join a process will allow stakeholders to better manage risk, to get out in front of the issue, and to prove that people determined to solve a problem and bound by a common commitment to compromise can reach a workable consensus for the greater good.
GAPP hopes to eventually scale these collaborative approaches to other sectors of the energy industry, including rapidly growing wind and solar development.
Next month in Pittsburgh, Pa., GAPP will bring together preservation leaders and executives of hydraulic fracturing companies for a groundbreaking, full-day summit to forge pragmatic strategies to identify and manage historic and cultural resources while encouraging efficient development of energy resources. The summit has two objectives. First, encourage domestic energy exploration as a path to political and economic energy independence and job creation. Second, identify voluntary standards that energy companies and preservation professionals can jointly follow to map, avoid, preserve, or mitigate hundreds of thousands of historic sites in the potential impact areas of hydraulic fracturing operations.
The summit is taking place at Fairmont Hotel, which sits on top of the Marcellus Shale. At about 95,000 square miles stretching over five states, the Marcellus Shale is thought to be the second largest natural gas find in the world, large enough to supply U.S. consumers’ energy needs for many decades to come.
The summit, “Bridging the GAPP: Honoring our History – Fueling our Future” will take place on March 21. You can register here: www.gasandpreservation.org/events/
Learn more about GAPP at www.gasandpreservation.org.
For more information, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marion F. Werkheiser, Counsel to the GAPP Board of Directors, is the co-founder and managing member of Cultural Heritage Partners, PLLC (www.culturalheritagepartners.com), a law and policy firm based in Washington, D.C. Cultural Heritage Partners has advised GAPP’s founders since the organization’s inception and provides day-to-day management for the effort. Ms. Werkheiser is a leader in the field of cultural heritage law and has counseled more than 75 enterprises on organizational capacity building, strategic planning, board development, program evaluation, fundraising, risk management, and government relations.