During fracking, large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected into the ground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas. In some places, the practice has been blamed for air pollution and gas leaks that have ruined well water.
The Pittsburgh project will be overseen by a 12-member board consisting of four seats for environmentalists, four for industry and four for independent figures, including former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency chief.
The center's proposed 2013 budget is $800,000, with the two sides expected to contribute equal amounts, said Andrew Place, the project's interim leader and director of energy and environmental policy at EQT, an Appalachian energy company.
Mark Frankel, an expert on ethics and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, said the idea sounds promising, but it remains to be seen if the new standards are a significant improvement over existing laws. He said there are also ethical and policy questions.
"What does it mean to have an independent board? Who's on it? How do they get on it?" he asked.
George Jugovic, president of the environmental group PennFuture, one of the participants, said the industry's involvement makes this different from past debates over fracking.
"Buy-in from them is huge. That provides leadership from within," Jugovic said. "It's very different from someone from the outside saying, 'You can do better.'"
But some critics of fracking weren't swayed by the new plan.
"Fracking is an inherently dangerous industrial process that takes us away from sustainable energy solutions. Its costs to humans and our environment just aren't worth it," said Kathy Nolan of Catskill Mountainkeeper, which is fighting fracking in New York state.
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