Womble Carlyle Ecology Innovations Proposes Mitigation Bank

Womble Carlyle Ecology Innovations President Bob Sokolove has a plan to mitigate the environmental impact of natural gas extraction.

Pittsburgh Business Times
27 May 2011
By Anya Litvak

A Virginia-based company is proposing that Marcellus Shale drillers and pipeline companies invest about $100 million in environmental projects across the state to offset the impacts of shale development.

Here’s how it would work, according to Bob Sokolove, president of Womble Carlyle Ecology Innovations LLC:

Natural gas drillers and pipeline companies would fund large wetland and other habitat restoration projects across the state.

Some of these projects would be mitigation banks, meaning they would produce environmental credits that can be bought by companies needing to offset the environmental impact of their activities. Others wouldn’t generate credits, Sokolove said, to ensure the overall initiative would be a net benefit for the environment. Available credits would be marketed to gas drillers, pipeline companies, coal mining firms, rock and gravel extraction, and road construction projects.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection each have mitigation banks — for wetlands and nutrient management, respectively — Womble’s proposal would involve offering more than one type of environmental credits that would be approved by the Army Corps and DEP, Sokolove said.

This would be voluntary and developed under the direction and approval of regulatory agencies, environmental groups and industry.

Womble pitched the idea before the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, a group assembled by Gov. Tom Corbett to examine and make recommendations about issues in the Marcellus.

“In a nutshell, the whole concept of mitigation banking is to locate in advance of impacts large, professionally designed, professionally built and maintained habitats,” Sokolove said.

The premise is that all industrial activity — building a road, a pipeline or a drill pad — impacts the environment.

Some of these impacts must be mitigated by law.

Womble, a development subsidiary of the North Carolina-based law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC, would look for projects based on two main drivers: where the natural gas industry is expected to have impacts and where the environmental community and regulators believe projects are most needed.

Patrick Henderson, whom Corbett appointed as the state’s energy executive, called Womble’s pitch “an intriguing idea worthy of discussion.”

Henderson said it’s too early to talk about how a mitigation bank would be implemented in Pennsylvania, however.

“We need to have a better understanding of where offsets are called for in the permitting process,” he said.

Sokolove spent part of this week meeting with industry representatives in Pittsburgh, though he declined to name companies.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition said its members are committed to environmental protection but declined to talk specifically about Womble or mitigation banks as instruments. Jan Jarrett, executive director of the environmental advocacy group PennFuture, said voluntary mitigation projects are always encouraged, but they should not take the place of legally mandated impact abatement.

“The public needs to have guarantees,” Jarrett said. “They can’t rely on a voluntary program like this because maybe some would participate and some would not.”

She also was worried such efforts might be used to defray calls for a natural gas severance tax.

Anya Litvak covers energy, transportation, utilities, gaming and accounting for the Pittsburgh Business Times.
Contact her at alitvak@bizjournals.com or (412) 208-3824.