12/30/2009 01:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

New York's Drilling Wastewater Disposal Problem

By Joaquin Sapien and Sabrina Shankman,

The site of one of Canada-based Gastem USA's wells in Otsego County, N.Y. The well produced far less wastewater than most Marcellus Shale wells will, but it still took the drillers more than a year to get permission to drill it, because they couldn't find a place to dispose of the water. (Joaquin Sapien/ProPublica)

Environmentalists, state regulators and even energy companies agree that the problem most likely to slow natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in New York is safely disposing of the billions of gallons of contaminated wastewater the industry will produce.

At least 2,500 wells per year could eventually be drilled into the huge natural gas reserve, state regulators say. Other estimates run several times higher (PDF). Each well will produce about 1.2 million gallons of wastewater that can contain chemicals introduced during the drilling process and dredged up from deep within the earth. That means the industry will have to find a way to dispose of as much as 3 billion gallons a year, enough to fill 5,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

New York's Department of Environmental Conservation took a stab at addressing the wastewater problem in the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on gas drilling it released in September.

Get the complete story at