Post-Gazette asks judge to unseal Marcellus settlement
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The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has asked a Washington County judge to unseal a recent legal settlement between a Mount Pleasant Township family and various corporations involved in Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations near their home.
Judge Paul Pozonsky scheduled arguments for 11 a.m. Oct. 4 on whether the settlement he sealed Aug. 23 should be open to public review.
In settling the case, plaintiffs Stephanie and Chris Hallowich and defendants including Range Resources, Mark West Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream Partners agreed not to disclose settlement details, resulting in a gag order on all parties.
But Post-Gazette attorney Frederick N. Frank said Post-Gazette reporters had been present for the settlement hearing, so compelling reasons should have been stated to justify sealing the results.
Attorneys for Range Resources and Mark West Energy Partners have objected to the newspaper's action to unseal the settlement.
Judge Pozonsky has agreed to open the case record prior to the settlement after no objections were raised.
When Judge Pozonsky sealed the case "indefinitely in its entirety," the Post-Gazette objected to the closed-door settlement proceeding, and that objection was entered into the case record.
The Hallowiches in recent years had become vocal critics of the Marcellus Shale drilling industry while insisting they support responsible development of the unconventional shale gas resource.
They bought their farm in 2005, unknowingly inheriting a gas lease with Range that had been signed by the previous owners. Soon after they built their house in 2007, four Marcellus gas wells, access roads, a gas-processing facility, compressor stations and a 3-acre holding pond were installed on properties bordering theirs.
In addition to complaining about noise, lights and emissions from those industrial facilities, Ms. Hallowich said their well water supply had been contaminated and that their two children, Nathan and Allison, had been exposed to volatile organic compounds from the drilling operations in the water and air.
Ms. Hallowich, who gave numerous print and video interviews during that period, said in those reports that water tests had found cancer-causing organic compounds, while air and water contaminants also caused them to experience burning eyes, sore throats, headaches and earaches. They've also had to pay about $500 a month to have water delivered to the farm.
First Published September 6, 2011 1:45 pm