Unsealed Records in Contamination Case Show Lax Oversight by PA DEP

by Duane Nichols on March 24, 2013

Marcellus Drilling Rig

Judge Unseals Settlement in Washington County, PA

From an article by Susan Phillips, StateImpact PA, NPR, March 21, 2013

A Washington County PA couple settled a high profile Marcellus Shale contamination case for $750,000 and signed affidavits that say no medical evidence ”definitively” connects their children’s health problems to drilling activity. Stephanie and Chris Hallowich also signed an affidavit that says their children were in good health.

More than $155,000 will go to the plaintiff’s attorneys. Each Hallowich child receives $10,000 to be placed in a trust. Stephanie and Chris Hallowich receive $594,820.37. The settlement requires arbitration should the children suffer any future health impacts.

On Wednesday, 971 pages of court records were unsealed in a closely watched case where the mother, an outspoken critic of gas drilling, is now under a gag order. A formal complaint was never filed in Hallowich v. Range Resources, but a draft of a complaint was attached as part of the settlement agreement. StateImpact Pennsylvania has uploaded the documents, which can be accessed by clicking here.

The complaint describes how the Hallowich family bought land in rural Washington County to raise their children in a healthy environment. But they soon discovered that the mineral rights beneath their land were already leased to Range Resources by the previous owner. Once gas drilling activity began near their home, they describe foul odors, loud noise, and ill-health, which they connected to air emissions, and contaminated water supplies.

According to court documents, the PA Department of Environmental Protection did not maintain records of an investigation of a neighbor’s water complaint. And the same person sent to investigate for the PA DEP, Mark Kiel, soon left the agency to work for the gas drilling company he had been investigating, Range Resources.

Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range Resources says Kiel continues to work for the company, “focusing on the environmental, health, and safety of Range’s operations, when he’s not cheering on his daughter’s soft ball team.” Pitzarella also says the company supports the judge’s decision to unseal the documents.

“This information, which clearly demonstrates that our industry did not have an impact on health, safety or the environment, combined with the vast 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,” wrote Pitzarella in an email.

Efforts by the plaintiff’s attorneys to get information from DEP and industry on environmental tests, investigation records, and the chemicals used in the production process from the gas drilling companies were denied by the court, and so do not appear in the documents. But there are water test results from Range Resources, and an explanation of DEP’s investigation, which concluded that gas drilling did not cause water contamination. To read the unsealed records, click here.

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