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New York Water Science Center 

Water Issues and Marcellus Shale Gas Development in New York

By John H. Williams and William M. Kappel


Marcellus Shale in central New York

The Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin is one of the largest unconventional gas plays in the United States. The Marcellus Shale is the most extensive of a series of Appalachian black-shale formations deposited in sediment-starved subsiding foreland basins during the Devonian Period. The targeted black shales in the Marcellus, which are delineated on geophysical logs by their elevated gamma radiation and low density, are organic rich and pyritic.

The Marcellus play is being developed in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio at depths between 5,000 and 9,000 feet below land surface. Typically, six horizontal legs 4,000 feet long are drilled in the basal Marcellus per multi-well pad and 3 to 5 million gallons of water are used to hydraulically fracture each leg. New York State is in the process of developing new regulations for horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing in low permeability formations such as the Marcellus Shale. Potential target depths for the Marcellus play in New York are in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 feet below land surface.

Water-resource issues associated with development of the Marcellus play include the 1) impact of surface-water and groundwater withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing during low-flow periods, 2) disposal of black-shale drill cuttings that may produce acidic, metals-rich drainage with elevated radioisotopes, and 3) treatment of hydraulic-fracturing flowback that contains elevated dissolved solids and radioisotopes. Surface spills of hydraulic-fracturing fluids and flowback and problems with casing and grout seals that allow migration of gas to freshwater aquifers pose the greatest threats to the water resources.

Typical well drilling tower with associated equipment Mixing of drill cuttings with absorbent polymer prior to shipping and disposal in a secured landfill.  
Typical well drilling tower with associated equipment Mixing of drill cuttings with absorbent polymer prior to shipping and disposal in a secured landfill.  


First posted December, 2011

    • Heisig, P.M., and Scott, Tia-Marie, 2013, Occurrence of methane in groundwater of south-central New York State, 2012—Systematic evaluation of a glaciated region by hydrogeologic setting: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5190, 32 p.,

      Methane Occurrence in Groundwater of South-Central New York State, 2012: Summary of Findings Fact Sheet
  • Kappel, W.M., 2013, Dissolved methane in groundwater, Upper Delaware River Basin, Pennsylvania and New York, 2007–12: U.S. Geological Survey, Open-File Report 2013–1167, 6 p.

  • Kappel, W.M., Williams, J.H., Szabo, Zoltan, 2013, Water resources and shale gas/oil production in the Appalachian Basin—Critical issues and evolving developments, U.S. Geological Survey, Open-File Report 2013–1137, p. 12.

  • Kappel, W. M., Sinclair, G. J., Reddy, J. E., Eckhardt, D. A., deVries, M. P., and Phillips, M. E., 2012, Specific conductance measurements in central and western New York streams - A retrospective characterization: U. S. Geological Survey Open-File Report: 2012-1174, 6 p.

  • Williams, J.H., 2010, Evaluation of well logs for determining the presence of freshwater, saltwater, and gas above the Marcellus Shale in Chemung, Tioga, and Broome Counties, New York: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5224, 27 p.

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For additional information contact:
(1) Director
U.S. Geological Survey
Troy Program Office
New York Water Science Center
425 Jordan Road
Troy, NY 12180

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