BY DAVID FALCHEK (STAFF WRITER) in The Published: September 21, 2012

The mayor of the nation's biggest city has teamed up with the inventor of hydraulic fracturing to establish a new set of gas industry best practices that some feel will increase public confidence.

The philanthropic arm of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the foundation created by fracking pioneer George P. Mitchell have enlisted the Environmental Defense Foundation to create Regional Centers for Excellence. A panel of representatives from the industry discussed the initiative and how it may change gas exploration and the public perception at the Marcellus Shale Coalition Shale Gas Insight conference in Philadelphia on Friday.

The effort is backed by $6 million from the Bloomberg Foundation and $400,000 from Mr. Mitchell's foundation to establish the centers in the nation's major shale gas plays with a goal of bringing more stakeholders to the table.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition will be a collaborator along with civic leaders, environmental groups and others. The best practices will be audited by experts from outside the industry, stressed Mark Brownstein, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund.

"I want technically competent people from outside the four squares of the industry so we can be sure this is not groupthink," he said. "There are folks on the inside who think (the American Petroleum Institute) best practices has all this covered. That is not right, because API is by and for the industry."

EDF wants to secure strong rules in 15 states, including Pennsylvania and New York, with the goal of better industry transparency and water management along with improving well integrity and limiting methane emission. The centers would examine ways to minimize impact of drilling pads and pipelines on land and roads.

Michael Krancer, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the initiative needs to be careful not to ask gas drillers to change their operations based on a stakeholders review, which he compared to a passenger telling a pilot how to fly the plane.

Kathleen McGinty of Weston Solutions Inc., a former secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said "transparency allays what could become ugly fears."

In the end, a sound process and industry adoption will go far in improving the industry's image among skeptics, Mr. Brownstein said. The industry, he fears, underestimates the resistance to drilling and fracking in some parts of the country.

"If you step outside your industry you will find a tremendous amount of skepticism," he said. "This is driven by the thought that neither regulators nor the industry have their arms around this."

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