This isn't a perfect world.

That's the one in which we wouldn't need to drill for fuel, harming our environment with both its recovery and consumption. We'd power our lives with renewable, "green" sources of energy like wind, solar and even the tides.

But those alternatives are nowhere near ready to replace the fuels upon which we've built this imperfect world.

We'll get there some day -- we must. Perhaps it will even be in our life times.

Until then, the reality is we'll continue to rely on the fuels at hand, although hopefully in a more environmentally friendly way.

That was the reasoning of environmentalists who recently joined forces with some of the largest companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale, the natural gas deposits that sparked America's latest energy boom.

New technology -- hydraulic fracturing, or fracking -- has allowed drillers to reach previously inaccessible deposits that now appear more bountiful than anyone dreamed of just a decade ago. It's part of the reason the United States is on a quick path to energy independence for the first time in generations.

But the process -- which involves injecting water and chemicals into wells to fracture the shale and release the gas -- is not without its environmental risks.

After years battling the drillers over fracking's impact on water and air quality, the environmentalists surprised some this month with their decision to form an alliance with the companies and philanthropic organizations.


The new Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development, made up of representatives from the three groups, will create a set of standards for fracking in Pennsylvania and other Northeast states.

Though the program is voluntary, drilling and pipeline companies will be encouraged to submit to a review of their operations, according to The Associated Press. If they're found to be abiding by the 15 -- so far -- tough new air and water protection measures, they'll receive the center's seal of approval.

Organizers said the goal is not to replace state and federal regulations, but supplement them. They want the center's certification to be seen by both the companies and the public as essential to shale drilling, The Associated Press notes.

Some critics, such as the Sierra Club, blasted the partnership, holding firm to the belief that there is no safe way to frack and the gas should remain in the ground.

But the environmental and philanthropic groups that helped found the center -- the Environmental Defense Fund, PennFuture, Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation among them -- are more realistic.

"We do recognize that this resource is going to be developed," Robert Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments, told The Associated Press. "We think that it can be done in a way that does not do violence to the environment."

And with representatives of all the interested parties helping to raise the bar together, that becomes more likely.