Judge to consider making public confidential document from 2011 Marcellus drilling settlement

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A Washington County judge today agreed to consider a request to make public a confidential 2011 Marcellus Shale gas damage settlement document missing from court records she ordered unsealed in March.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Washington Observer-Reporter asked President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca to rule on their motion to complete the court record in the Hallowich family damage case against Range Resources Inc., MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream.

MarkWest appealed Judge O'Dell Seneca's March order to unseal the Hallowich case records to the state Superior Court in April, and argued Tuesday that the action to complete the court record is precluded by that appeal.

The newspapers have sought access to court records in the Hallowich case since they were sealed in August 2011 by Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky, who has since resigned for reasons unrelated to that case.

"In that original order to seal the case records it is clear that the agreement is part of the record," Frederick Frank, the attorney representing the Post-Gazette, said in court. "We're asking this court to enforce its prior (March) order and make it part of the judicial record. We should not be delayed further in having the record completed."

The Hallowich family claimed their property value and health were damaged when four Marcellus Shale gas wells, compressor stations and a 3-acre wastewater impoundment were drilled and installed adjacent to their 10-acre farm in Mt. Pleasant.

The Hallowichs received a $600,000 settlement, plus $150,000 for attorneys fees.

The settlement agreement, discussed during the August 2011 hearing in Judge Pozonsky's chambers which the Post-Gazette was barred from attending, contains a non-disclosure clause that prevents the family from speaking about the settlement or talking publicly about shale gas drilling or hydraulic fracturing.

Why the settlement agreement was not part of the 900-page court record unsealed in March is, Judge O'Dell Seneca said, "a puzzle that has not been resolved."

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Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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