The confidential settlement agreement in the Hallowich case, mysteriously missing from court records unsealed in March, was ordered restored and made public by Washington County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Debbie O'Dell-Seneca Friday.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Washington Observer-Reporter had asked the court to restore the agreement, which settled the Hallowiches' claims that multiple Marcellus Shale gas wells, compressors and a water impoundment adjacent to their 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant had damaged the family's health and their property's value.
The judge's two-page order noted that the missing confidential agreement was relied upon by Judge Paul Pozonsky in entering his settlement order, is absent from the judicial record, and "no party [to the case] could explain or justify that absence." She wrote that the court is "obligated" to correct and restore the full record.
"We are extremely gratified that Judge O'Dell-Seneca continued to support the rights of the media and the public to have access to the judicial record, as we believe it should," said Frederick Frank, the attorney who represented the Post-Gazette.
Peter Villari, the attorney who represented the Hallowich family, said Friday afternoon that he had received the judge's order, which required him to produce the confidential agreement, and shipped the agreement to the court via overnight mail. It should be filed with the county prothonotary on Monday, he said.
The family's claims were settled when Range Resources, MarkWest Energy and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream agreed to pay the Hallowiches $750,000 in an agreement that was sealed by the court in August 2011. The settlement included a nondisclosure stipulation and a gag order that applied to the Hallowiches, but that Range says now it never intended to apply to the two minor children.
Matt Pitzarella, a Range spokesman, said the Hallowiches asked that the court records be sealed -- a claim denied by Mr. Villari -- and "is pleased that the public will have the facts that clearly demonstrate that there were absolutely no environmental or health impacts from natural gas development."
Range has steadfastly denied the family suffered any health problems due to air or water contamination from shale gas development, but admitted that the concentration of facilities around the farm raised lifestyle concerns.
"There were some unique issues associated with the proximity to the house and we're happy to have addressed those by enabling the family to move," Mr. Pitzarella said. "Fortunately, those circumstances are impossible to duplicate with modern technology advancements and new setback rules that the industry supported."
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.