Alleged pollution at root of dispute: Washington County lawsuit settled, but case’s facts remain murky

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WASHINGTON, Pa. — A Washington County family has agreed to settle a lawsuit against Range Resources Corporation over alleged air and water pollution adjacent to what was their 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant Township.

Stephanie and Chris Hallowich filed the lawsuit in 2010.

Settlement

The exact details of the settlement between Range Resources, Mark West Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream Partners and the family were sealed by former Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Pozonksy at the request of the family’s attorney since the family involved two minors.

The Hallowiches purchased their home in 2005, then discovered the property had a gas lease with Range that had been signed by the previous owners.

Within a couple of years, their property was surrounded by Marcellus gas wells, access roads, a gas processing facility, compressor stations and a  three-acre holding pond on neighboring properties.

Alleged contamination

Within a few years, the Hallowiches reportedly noticed changes in their well water supply and complained it had been contaminated. The family complained that their two children, a boy and girl, had been exposed to air and water pollution as a result of the drilling.

No admission

Range Resources Corporation says a settlement was reached, but it still does not mean there were health impacts as a result of natural gas operations.

“We’re pleased that the public now has access to this information and can clearly see that natural gas operations had absolutely no environmental, health or safety impacts,” said Matt Pitzarella, Range Resources Corporation director of corporate communications and public affairs, in a written statement.

“They [Hallowich family] did have issues associated with the unique proximity of their home and early industry activity, which cannot be duplicated again due to new setback regulations that the industry supported.”

Pitzarella said Range Resource Corporation is in favor of the court decision.

No environmental impacts

Range Resources released some files from the Department of Environmental Protection that came out as part of the court proceedings.
“Mrs. Hallowich alleges that the drilling of the gas well polluted the aquifer. As the following will demonstrate, we are lacking any direct evidence to prove this assertion,” according to DEP.

DEP added that the compounds identified by Mrs. Hallowich were “non-detect or within drinking water standards.” (DEP correspondence, August 2009)

Pennsylvania DEP also issued an air quality report for that region, which “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” (DEP air sampling report for SW Pa., November, 2010)

No health impacts

A sworn statement by the plaintiffs was also released in the files, and states:

“Plaintiffs, Stephanie and Chris Hallowich, hereby submit the following affidavit and attest that:

1. With respect to plaintiff minors’ alleged claims involving nuisance and personal injury claims, there is presently no medical evidence that these symptoms are definitively related to any exposure to the activities of defendants set forth in Plaintiffs’ [Complaint].

2. The minors have alleged claims for nuisance and personal injury in connection with defendants’ business operations. There is presently no medical evidence supporting that these claims related to any exposure to defendants’ business operations as set forth in plaintiffs’ complaint. And presently, the minors are healthy and have no symptoms that may allegedly be related to defendants’ business operations.

3. Based upon the facts and circumstances of the case and on behalf of our minor children, we believe and certify that the proposed settlement as set forth in the petition, is reasonable and fair.”

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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