Legal Confrontations Over Health Impacts of Drilling & Fracking Continue

by Duane Nichols on May 10, 2019

Amity & Prosperity are communities in Washington County, PA

Judge rules Range Resources can’t depose Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters or see their notes

From an Article by Don Hopey and David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 7, 2019

A Washington County judge has denied a request by Range Resources Appalachia LLC to subpoena and depose two Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters and a former editor who are attempting to unseal a private settlement of a family’s health claim against the drilling company.

Range had sought to depose and collect information from Post-Gazette Managing Editor Sally Stapleton, who left the paper at the end of March, and reporters Don Hopey and David Templeton.

The decision, issued Friday by Washington County Common Pleas Court President Judge Katherine Emery, denied the company’s attempt to uncover the reporters’ sources and obtain their notes and documents related to the case, saying the newspaper’s sources are protected from disclosure by Pennsylvania’s Shield Law.

“The Shield Law must be liberally construed in favor of the news media,” Judge Emery wrote in her order and opinion. “Under this law, the employees of the newspaper cannot be required to disclose any information that could lead to the disclosure of their sources.”

Later she writes that while circumstances may exist in which the law “may have to yield, those circumstances must be narrowly construed. They are not present at this juncture.”

The Post-Gazette also asked Judge Emery to order Range to pay the newspaper’s attorney’s fees, alleging that the company’s attempt to subpoena reporters’ documents, notes and deposition testimony was an attempt to “harass and intimidate” reporters, but she denied that request.

Judge Emery has scheduled a hearing for 1 p.m., May 28, on the newspaper’s petition to intervene and unseal the settlement of a high-profile case brought in 2012 by Stacey Haney and several neighbors. They alleged they were exposed to spills, leaks and air pollutants from Range’s “Yeager” well site in Amwell, Washington County, and experienced serious health problems, including a heightened risk of cancer.

That case was settled and sealed in September 2018. But Ms. Haney has asked the Washington County court for a protective order that would allow her to reference details of that settlement in a separate but related case she has brought in Allegheny County.

In February 2019, the Post-Gazette found out about Ms. Haney’s request and moved to intervene in the Washington County proceedings, arguing that Range had not overcome the constitutional presumption that court proceedings and documents should be accessible to the public.

Range is claiming the newspaper’s intervention request was made after the case was settled and is therefore not timely.

In the Allegheny County court case, Ms. Haney is alleging that the Washington County case settlement was compromised by a medical professional’s unauthorized sharing of her health records with an attorney representing Range.

Range spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment Monday or Tuesday. Frederick Frank, an attorney representing the Post-Gazette in the case, declined to comment.

The Post-Gazette learned of the Haney settlement in late January 2019 while working on a story about a grand jury empaneled by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro to investigate the oil and gas industry and potential environmental crimes in Washington County.

As part of that investigation, Mr. Shapiro asked attorneys representing Range and Ms. Haney and her neighbors to preserve documents and records in the Washington County case.

The health problems of Ms. Haney, her family and neighbors were chronicled in the book “Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America,” by Eliza Griswold, which won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year.


Eliza Griswold, “Amity and Prosperity” – YouTube

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