Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Unsealed Records in Contamination Case Claim Lax Oversight by DEP

Mladen Antonov / AFP/Getty Images

Consol Energy drill rig explores the Marcellus Shale in Greene County.

A Washington County 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 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 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.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not return a request for comment.
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.

Comments

  • BCarlton

    “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”
    So if nothing bad happened, then why would Range Resources make any kind of settlement at all??

  • http://www.facebook.com/risinglion Alexander Lotorto

    Let’s acknowledge this all occurred under the Rendell administration with John Hanger as PA DEP Secretary and that PA Democrats should stop inviting them to speak. Ahem, Pike County Dems.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vera-Scroggins/725945851 Vera Scroggins

    if nothing happened , why was there a “gag order” and any kind of settlement; sounds like the usual double-talk by the industry to get them off the hook.

  • Kim Feil

    Another secret being kept is happening in Arlington TX on citizens that call 911 during gas drilling pad site emission events where EMT’s responded to health effects during the releases. The first Attorney General ruling from the April 2011 event was that only part of the info could be released and left it up to the city to decide which part is public information. The second request from the 1/31/13 “Cowboys Stadium smells like Chesapekae Cat Piss” event is still under consideration at the Attorney Generals office to be released or not. So when people are sickened by nearby padsite emissions and call for EMT’s to respond… that is not public information in Arlington gasland Texas….wtf? I live, breathe, and blog in BarnettShaleHell.

    • Iris Marie Bloom

      As in Texas, so in Pennsylvania, as history repeats itself. Right now a Bradford County couple has had to leave their home because emissions from nearby drilling, fracking and flaring operations were sickening them. But health advocates trying to help the couple are unable to find the records from the PA DEP emergency workers who visited them in response to their complaint. How can shale country residents protect themselves when DEP somehow manages to lose the data, while claiming that “everything is fine”? Obviously workers would not be experiencing blurred vision, slurred speech, huge rashes, swollen lips and other terrible symptoms if “everything is fine” with fracking operations. Yet silences multiply Watching Range Resources “spin” away Range’s destruction of the Hallowich family’s peaceful lives in this StateImpact blog post is creepy. Of course the Hallowich family can’t give StateImpact a fresh quote — because they are silenced by Range’s non-disclosure clause. This is how companies that make people sick actually work. Range also sued the gentleman in Texas, Steve Lipsky, for showing EPA the intense, explosive level of methane saturation of his well water. Range Resources is behaving, in these and other cases, like an abuser: honeymoon phase, then physically destructive assaults, covered up by slick denial, sophisticated use of the courts, and friends in high places.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dawn.overbayharris Dawn Overbay Harris

        Hi Iris, I am writing a research paper for school on public health risks of fracking. Do you know how I can obtain something more formal regarding what you wrote? SOmething I can use as a resource?

        • http://www.facebook.com/dawn.overbayharris Dawn Overbay Harris

          Please email me at dawnharris.22@gmail.com if you have further information.

          • Lynn Kreiser Miller

            Just search “fracking,” loads of info & resources.

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