Washington County family settles lawsuit over Marcellus Shale drilling
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A Washington County family has agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging their health was harmed by air pollution and water contamination from Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations adjacent to their 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant Township.
The settlement of the civil action against Range Resources, Mark West Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream Partners was sealed by Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Pozonsky and contains a gag order on the Hallowich family.
It was finalized in a private, 15-minute meeting held Tuesday morning in the judge's chambers at the Washington County Courthouse. No details of the settlement were released by the court or the participating parties and the case file has been "sealed indefinitely in its entirety" by the judge.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette objected to the closed-door settlement proceeding and its objection was entered into the case record, according to the judge's law clerk.
Stephanie and Chris Hallowich, who in recent years have become vocal critics of the Marcellus Shale drilling industry while insisting they support responsible development of the unconventional shale gas resource, bought their farm in 2005, unknowingly inheriting a gas lease with Range that had been signed by the previous owners.
Soon after the Hallowiches 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. Because of the noise, lights and emissions from those industrial facilities, Ms. Hallowich has said their house and property are worthless.
Over the next few years, the Hallowiches complained that 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 found ethylbenzene, toluene, styrene and tetrachloroethylene -- all cancer-causing organic compounds. She said the air and water contaminants caused them to experience burning eyes, sore throats, headaches and earaches. They've had to pay about $500 a month to have water delivered to the farm.
Ms. Hallowich has been a vocal critic of the drilling industry, but on Tuesday as she left the judge's chambers with her husband and children and their attorney, Peter Villari, she said she was sorry but couldn't comment.
James Swetz, of the K&L Gates law firm representing Range Resources, declined to comment on the case, the settlement or how many confidential settlements the drilling company has entered into with landowners affected by its Marcellus Shale gas well facilities.
Phone messages left at Range Resources and Mark West requesting comment were not returned.
First Published August 25, 2011 12:00 am