It's going to cost $3 billion a year to treat wastewater in the Marcellus Shale gas fields in upstate Pennsylvania and neighboring states once the industry gets going, says Ryan M. Connors, a water-stock analyst with Boenning & Scattergood.

It can take six million gallons of water to hydraulically fracture ("frack") a single deep natural gas well into production. Drillers contemplate tens of thousands of Marcellus wells. Boenning expects 3,300 wells coming online in 2020, pumping water at 14 cents a gallon.

"Most of this water returns to the surface in the form of a contaminated liquid," bearing "chlorides and sulfates as well as heavy metals," the disposal of which "presents yet-to-be-fully resolved challenges for gas companies," Connors told clients in a report.

Exxon Mobil Corp. is so fearful that stricter water laws could derail shale-gas drilling that the company "inserted a protection clause allowing it to walk away should new laws restrict the company from fracking" in its $41 billion deal this month to buy Marcellus driller XTO Energy, Connors adds.

In Texas shale fields, where water-quality laws are relatively lax, drillers dump waste down dry oil wells. Upstate Pennsylvania has more water, but mountain-road trucking costs are high, pollution laws are stronger, and disposal is expensive. Drillers would like to dump waste in municipal treatment facilities. But those are "designed to treat biological, not chemical, wastewater."

The best solution, Connors concludes, is to boil wastewater away, using natural gas burners, leaving the bad stuff as manageable solids. He says that would be good business for U.S. boilermakers, at least.

Wharton to Rome

Penn's Wharton undergrad business school isn't the typical staging ground for a media ministry. But for James Martin ('82), the road to Rome led through West Philly.

A Jesuit priest, Martin is a rare mass-media intellectual in the American Catholic Church. He's a member of Philip Seymour Hoffman's Labyrinth Theater Company at New York's Public Theater, a preacher at New York's elite St. Ignatius Loyola on Fifth Avenue, and an occasional "chaplain" on Stephen Colbert's popular TV show (to Martin, "Colbert is very Catholic").

Martin has wrestled with angry liberal Catholic polymath Gary Wills in the secular-humanist New York Review of Books, served as an editor of the Jesuit magazine America, and written best-sellers A Jesuit Off-Broadway and My Life With the Saints.

The other night, he recounted his career path in a jammed auditorium at Wharton's Huntsman Hall. He grew up in an "irreligious Catholic family" in Norristown and Plymouth Meeting, hit the books as a typical Wharton "grind," stayed in bed Sundays at Speakman Hall avoiding "touchy-feely" campus Masses, and graduated to an accounting job at General Electric headquarters in Connecticut.

"Business is a vocation for some people," Martin said, but "it wasn't for me. Everyone around me liked what they were doing. I was miserable. I was starting to get these stomach cramps."

Martin says he got turned around by a TV documentary on Thomas Merton, the mid-20th-century Ivy League convert and Trappist writer. He read everything he could find by Merton, C.S. Lewis, and their contemporaries. He consulted a psychologist, presented himself at a Jesuit community ("It was like setting up an interview at Salomon Bros."), and shocked his old roommates with the news at a dinner at Brasserie in New York. "My Penn friends were horrified. I'd never talked about religion to them," Martin said. "At all."

The Jesuits sent him to Kenya, where "I thought I'd left all my Wharton stuff behind." But his Nairobi superiors assigned him to help refugees start small businesses. That sparked "two Ethiopian restaurants, both called Blue Nile." Chicken and cattle farms, "which they don't teach you at Penn." A women's group making stuffed animals for export. More women tailoring specialty clothing for "wealthy expats and tourists and foreign religious. They had the money. We had the people." Demand, supply.

Martin warned against the religious life as a bypass to happiness: "Once you get it, it's hard. That's the cross. That's the Christian way."

Yet he also said religious people ought to be funny. He told death jokes and Wharton jokes and Jesus jokes. He got a lot of laughs. He sold some books.

Contact staff writer Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or JoeD@phillynews.com.