Pennsylvania gas drilling case settled for $750,000

Posted Friday, Mar. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A newly released court document shows Fort Worth-based Range Resources and other defendants paid $750,000 to settle claims that natural gas production activity contaminated a Pennsylvania family's air and water and otherwise disrupted their home's rural setting.

Range, one of the largest natural gas producers in the Marcellus Shale, which underlies parts of several states in the Northeast, now owns the 10-acre property under the terms of the settlement, a company spokesman said. The settlement was sealed when it was reached in July 2011, but two Pennsylvania newspapers sued to have it made public and a judge granted the request on Wednesday.

The case concerns Chris and Stephanie Hallowich, who in June 2005 purchased 10 acres in Hickory, Penn., a rural area in western Pennsylvania's Washington County. They started building their home there in November 2006, according to court documents.

"Unknown to the plaintiffs, the prior owner, Nancy Stewart, had subdivided the property and then sold a portion to defendant Range Resources Corp. for the purpose of drilling natural gas wells," according to the family's lawsuit. Stewart also signed a mineral rights lease on the property, the documents say.

Washington County became an early focus of drilling in the Marcellus Shale, and by 2008, near the Hallowich home were four natural gas wells drilled by Range, as well as a compressor station and a gas treatment facility operated by other companies, also defendants in the suit. The Hallowich family and a neighboring landowner soon complained of water contamination, air emissions and other disruptions, and the family sued Range, MarkWest Energy Partners, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in 2010.

The state regulator found high concentrations of some compounds, including manganese, in the landowners' water but could not say Range or the other companies were responsible, according to the court record.

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said in an email: "The family began building their home after several early Marcellus wells and associated infrastructure was starting to be developed near them. The family was in a unique situation and one that was not ideal for them or for Range. Range believed that the right thing to do was to allow both sides to move forward."

According to a 2010 National Geographic report, Pitzarella said Range made a verbal offer to buy the Hallowich property for around $200,000, based on a real estate agent's assessment of fair market value. The Hallowiches, who have since moved from their house, had put it on the market for close to $500,000.

Of the $750,000 paid, nearly $600,000 went to the family, including trust accounts of $10,000 for each of the couple's two small children.

The settlement says the children's "alleged claims involve nuisance and personal injury. There is presently no medical evidence that support that these claims are related to any exposure to the activities of defendants as set forth in plaintiff's complaint."

The family's lawyer received 20 percent of the settlement, or $150,000, plus $5,179.63 in expenses.

Pitzarella's statement said Range "does not have concerns with the judge's decision, which we greatly respect, to make the court file public. This information combined with the vast public data accessible through the DEP's extensive investigations should provide the public with even greater clarity that shale gas is being developed safely and responsibly."

Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552

Twitter: @jimfuquay

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