Pennsylvania court hears arguments in newspapers' request to intervene in Marcellus Shale case

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HARRISBURG -- A state appellate court heard arguments Wednesday over whether a Washington County judge erred in denying the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Washington Observer-Reporter newspapers' request to intervene in a Marcellus Shale case settled last year.

That settled case involved a dispute between Stephanie and Chris Hallowich of Mount Pleasant and Range Resources, MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream Partners.

The couple claims nearby gas drilling operations harmed their family's health and ruined their property value.

The legal action was formally settled in August 2011 during a closed-door meeting in Judge Paul Pozonsky's chambers, after which the case file was sealed. A reporter from the Post-Gazette objected to the private proceeding and the verbal objection was noted in the court record.

A petition to intervene and to unseal the record was filed by the Post-Gazette a week later. Judge Pozonsky denied those requests in February, after questioning during an October hearing whether the newspapers had a right to intervene once the matter was closed.

Post-Gazette attorney Frederick N. Frank told a panel of state Superior Court judges during Wednesday's hearing that the lower court decided that their request was not made in a timely manner -- an argument that wasn't made by the defendants -- and should have listened to arguments on the merits of the newspapers' case.

An attorney for the Observer-Reporter, Colin Fitch, said unsealing the records would provide information to the public about how the Hallowichs were impacted by the nearby activity and the state's response.

"How is the DEP performing?" he asked. "There is a public interest in this case."

Bob Graci, an attorney for MarkWest, responded that the newspaper companies, not just a reporter, should have made a legal request to intervene before the final action was taken to seal the case file.

The panel of Judges Judith Olson, Paula Ott, and James Fitzgerald did not issue a ruling from the bench.

electionspa - state - marcellusshale

Harrisburg Bureau chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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