Energy. Environment. Economy.

Appeals Court Agrees with Newspapers in Sealed Fracking Case

A Pennsylvania appeals court has ruled in favor of two newspapers seeking to unseal court records in a fracking contamination case. Hallowich v. Range Resources is one of the most closely watched cases involving claims of health impacts and property damage against a Marcellus Shale gas driller. But when the case was settled, the Court of Common Pleas sealed all the records. Reporters from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had been barred by court employees from observing a hearing that had been held several days before it was listed on the public docket. The paper’s publisher sued, and was later joined by another daily newspaper, the Observer-Reporter.

In a ruling issued Friday, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania says the lower trial court erred in not considering the motion to unseal court records. The trial court had dismissed the newspaper’s motion because it was filed after the case was closed. The Superior Court ordered the Court of Common Pleas to take a look at the newspaper’s requests to unseal the record, and rule based on the merits of the case.


  • Michael Condon

    When you go to legislative hearings, industry spokespersons willl claim no water wells have been ruined by fracking, but it is the gag orders that make that possible. Wells have been ruined and the word has to get out otherwise these corrupt lawyers are allowing serial perpatraitors to flourish! Our water is more important than their profits and state governments ought to realize that and stop victimizing and poisening their citizens!

  • Dinah Dewald

    Regardless of how you feel about fracking, how can it be right to seal off evidence in a trial from the public? If that information was relevant to sentencing on a case about health effects that could affect others, it is unacceptable to keep it from the public eye. If gas companies have nothing to hide, why are they so interested in keeping their chemicals, health impacts and trial records secret?

  • Beth Cooper

    It is extremely important that these records be unsealed. If there are no health issues, then fine – we don’t have to worry about that in this case. But, if there ARE, it is critical for people who live in shale gas drilling regions to know about it. This could well be a public health issue – and a human rights issue – and we, as American citizens have a right and a need to know if it is.

  • Erin Blumer

    It is incomprehensible to have a gag order and then claim that unconventional hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is completely safe. Why would you need a gag clause if this was the case?

  • Walter Tsou

    As a public health physician, I am very interested in knowing what is in these fracking fluids. It is like trying to pick an antibiotic if you don’t know what is the disease. Not good medicine. So it is not good to try to treat a patient who you have no idea what they have been exposed to.

  • Diane Sipe

    This is not a private matter, it is a public health issue. It’s time we demand that the common interests, not corporate interests take precedence.

  • Ann Law

    It is crucial that these non-disclosure agreements be unsealed. The existence of such agreements are of benefit only to the industry.

  • Celia Janosik

    Hydro fracking affects everyone and no one wants to be responsible for its affects. We, the people, therefore have to be our own protectors, knowledge is our greatest ally. We need a free press and a justice system for all because our politicians have failed us by supporting the institutions of greed and dishonoring their pledge to protect the people and the Constitution. The public should have access to all contamination records in the process of hydro fracking. The Clean Air and Clean Water acts should be revisited and INCLUDE hydro fracking.

  • E Benec

    The general welfare of our community effects everyone. How can the entire community not be up in arms over this? This information is imperative to making an accurate, informative view on fracking. If there is nothing harmful in them then the industry should be happy to disclose and finally put an end to any negative speculation on the matter. If there is evidence of environmental contamination then we all deserve to made aware so that we can make healthy choices in the water that we drink and even the areas where we choose to live.

  • sandra simpson

    There as already been one court award for fracking damage posted in the Post Gazette. Everyone needs to have all of these records made public. If teh fr4acking is not causing the problem, why are they worried??

    • Matthew Grazulis


  • Gloria

    Range Resources sought the gag order. Makes sense b/c they profit from fracking, they profit mightily from fracking. The judge in the Hallowich case complied with Range’s request. The briefest of searches into this troubled judge’s recent history produces disquieting facts: he is under investigation in PA, he ‘resigned’ this June before the investigation’s completion. He accepted a high position in Alaska’s judiciary. As of 3 days ago he ‘resigned’ from that position also.

    Open the Hallowich’s court records! Do the same for all victims of every drilling company. And mount a full investigation of the judge. The drilling industry abhors ‘sunshine’, in every sense of the word. They pour millions of dollars into political pockets to keep the sunshine at bay.
    Let the sunshine in.

  • Bill B

    ‘Trade secrets’ and ‘proprietary chemicals’ hidden under the 2005 Energy Act (also known as the Halliburton Loophole) surely can not extend to this level. We hear how non-disclosure of the toxic chemicals includes the waste water. Now they want to continue to deny the destruction of public resources and our environment under a gag order? As already stated, FULL PUBLIC DISCLOSURE is the proper thing to do and if they are not greedy, crooked, corrupt and colluding with bought and paid legislators….there’s nothing to fear!

    • Ed V.

      Right Bill, Back in 2003 I wrote my blog on a Nurse in Colorado that almost died because she worked on a gas worker that was covered in Zettaflow. from breathing the fumes from the chemical cocktail. Halliburton would not give the doctor treating her the names of what made up the cocktail. Finally a court order was issued and the doctor was gagged. He would be jailed and fined if he told the chemicals in Zettaflow. I live about a half mile from the Powers Pad explosion, that happened in Feb.2012, and it rocked our house and the smell was that of benzine. I have worked with benzine and you don’t forget that smell.

  • Audrey Gozdiskowski

    There should be no gag orders when it comes to public health.

  • JustinR

    If there’s nothing to hide, why the gag order? “Truth never damages a cause that is just.” – Gandhi

  • Marilyn Hunt

    The facts about deadly contamination must not be suppressed. Acrylonitrile, toluene and other chemicals are now in drinking water here. the crime that came with the drilling from the corruption of officials to the street drugs now rages through rural Wetzel County WV…the degradation and contamination are an epidemic of shame. China banks funded this invasion of America farmland through Chesapeake Energy while the corporation ran ads about cynical have we become? Tell the truth and save what is left!

  • Chris Tate

    Thanks to the PGH Post-Gazette and the objective reporting of the dedicated staff. Pittsburgh and the environs have long been a bastion of independence, self-reliance, and out right defiance in defense of human rights.

  • valerie

    It is a hideous and horriffic day when Americans are gagged with courts and doctors due to an unsustainable filthy industry based on greed and force. We The People say: undo the loopholes and ungag doctors and courts.

  • Bill

    If the natural gas industry is so responsible why is it they need gag orders,non disclosure statements,and trade secrets on their chemicals ,

    • hoax_buster

      Trade secrets? Has Coca Cola ever revealed its secret recipe? No.

      That aside, the contents of fracking fluids are known and you can obtain a list of them from many sources, but the easiest is the Internet. Like the contents of Coke or Hostess Twinkies, if you put enough of either into your body, you’ll hurt yourself.

      When you get a flu shot, or you’re vaccinated against a disease, you’re injected with a touch of the disease itself. Do you develop the flu from a flu shot? Polio from the polio vaccine? No.

      Has anyone’s water been harmed by proximity to hydraulic fracturing? No.

      • Maggie Henry

        You have a choice of whether to go to a store and contaminate your body with coke and Twinkies, not so with drilling! The air is polluted, water contaminated, land ruined and no appeals to DEP for protection is heeded. You say “Has anyone’s water been harmed by proximity to hydraulic fracturing? No.” …are you kidding me? Really? 161 incidents are on record and there are people in my area with water buffalos that won’t say a word against the industry. Are they gagged and can’t deal with the inability to drink water, bath, cook, wash their clothes, yadda? Or did they drink the industry koolaide and can’t bear the idea they have to admit they were wrong?

  • Mel Packer

    The industry practice of settling with landowners to avoid court cases and rulings that will find companies guilty of ruining the environment must be stopped. There must be full transparency in these settlements, otherwise the industry and their shills in state and federal govt will continue to claim that they’ve never been found guilty of poisoning anyone’s water.

  • Brent

    Sealed court records? Is this Russia?

  • Ted Popovich

    I was a guest in the Hallowich home shortly after a National Geographic feature article was published in 2010. ( I was appalled by their living conditions and by the treatment accorded them by Range and government agencies. I felt like I was in a 3rd world country. We can do better than that! Unseal the records and let’s have the transparency that we all deserve.

  • Joseph

    The gas industry’s claim to “safe and responsible drilling” is based on lies and the silencing of its victims. Unseal the court records; then we’ll see how “safe and responsible” these villains are.

  • Mark No Frack McCloskey

    Let the truth be told! Public health risks need to be out in the open! How can informed decisions about fracking be made if facts are being hidden?

  • Dennis

    Before they ruin the drinking water and our clean air………..we better get serious about full disclosure. The Courts need to hold the gas companies to the same standard as most people abide by in the Commonwealth.
    When did gas companies become special?????

    • Nancy Neel

      It is not “before” they ruin the drinking water and our clean air. It is before they CONTINUE to ruin them. It is before we have NO safe water or clean air. I think we should now refer to them as the GAG industry. And their punishment for their lies and crimes should be drinking the contaminated water and let’s see them GAG!!!

  • Anita

    We are told repeatedly from the DEP, the governor and other elected officials that we have nothing to fear from fracking. They strongly side with industry. They call those who question the practice and call out the negative impacts “radicals.” What are thoughtful citizens to think when court cases are sealed and plaintiffs are forced into signing a gag order before they are able to collect money for damages? Trust what we are being told from industry supporters….I think not.

  • yogamama

    If fracking is so safe, why all the secrecy?

    • Liz Rosenbaum

      One might ask the same question of the PA DEP.

  • Rosemary Smith

    This is a public issue, there are more and more families being affected by this industry. If this industry is on the up and up like they say, why is everything such a big secret. As I write this the news on TV is reporting on a chemical affecting people in sofa’s. Why is the gas industry demanding their chemical use be kept a secret? I have had enough of the publicity on their so called community contributions when my neighbors are depending on me and others in this area for safe water by the gallon to brush their teeth, drink and bath in. No amount of economic growth is worth this risk, people lives and our water are too important.This industry needs to be held accountable for any damage done. Open those files!!

  • BAS

    There is more and more evidence each day that proves this industry is toxic to the people living near drilling. If the courts continue to side with industry and hide the truth from the public it just strengthens our mission to educate and prove that this “Boom, Bust” industry is not worth the risk. The negative impacts, and property loss outweigh any benefits few are getting. It must be stopped before more damage is done. Corbett must be stopped. Notice there is no one saying it is right to hide this information from the public.

  • Michael Bagdes-Canning

    Gag orders serve no purpose if they allow industry to cover up life threatening practices. This is a public health matter that trumps any other.

  • r.w. yanock

    why isn’t the public allowed to view the data unless the industry is hiding somthing

  • Anne K

    Non-disclosure when public health is at stake is evil!!

  • Concerned for my family,mom

    This family does not object to making the information public and has been very vocal in that regard until their suit was settled and they were forced to sign a non disclosure in order to move on. The public has always heard from the family because they wanted everyone to know the facts and perhaps prevent this from happening to someone else. Open the file,what information are they trying to hide?

  • Dianne Arnold

    The gas industry continue to keep the public in the dark about the real dangers of fracking through non-disclosure agreements and sealed court decisions. If they have nothing to hide, the industry should welcome full disclosure, including settlements for lawsuits.

  • Joni Rabinowitz

    Gag orders are ammunition for criminals and censors who want to intimidate ordinary people and exert power over them. I hope this case WILL be opened and that the many others who have signed gag orders will be able to have their cases open, also. The affected people need to be able to tell their stories!

  • Don Dixon

    When you are endangering public health, we need to be informed. Hiding behind closed doors and proceeding records not available to the public just shows tht something is wrong and the gas companied want it hidden away. Unseal these and all records involving public heealth and big energy!

  • Sjanna

    The gas industry must be made to publicly disclose the damage they have caused. Fracking has been proven to be dangerous to our environment and our health. Let the court records be read by all!

    • Don Reitmeyer III

      I’m sure many folks are unaware that Gov. Corbett took vast sums of money for his election campaign from the very Gas Companies he now protects. Further, former Gov. Tom Ridge is their Lobbyist. One could naturally expect this all to be covered up. “Nothing to see here folks, move along.” PA Doctors are allowed to see the list of chemicals used for Fracking, but when you become ill they are forbidden to tell you what made you sick, or they lose the “privilege” to practice medicine in this State. Those who let these Companies on there property for profit should be ashamed of themselves. We all need money and more is better than less, but how can these people live with themselves knowing they are abetting a known hazardous process for profit? I believe the Bible says, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul.” Of course with the money they enrich themselves with they can afford to move away to greener pastures free of fear of chemical contamination, but what about those who can’t? There is corruption in this at all levels, including the DEP who is charged with protecting PA citizens from these hazards. Much like the Tar Sands pipeline that ruptured this will become a huge loss to the State in the future long after the wells have dried up and the Boon to the State economy is over we will all be paying for clean-up of this hazardous process. These cases have Gag Orders because if the citizens of this State knew exactly what the potential hazards are were they would run away, just like those who made a killing on the Gas lease and can now afford to move, leaving the rest of us with poisoned wells and polluted water. Enjoy your 3 eyed trout and sores on the bass in the river. These people just got started and all this thanks to Political cover-ups from the likes of Gov.’s Corbett and Ridge. God help us, surely no one else will. If it’s all so “Safe” then why do they close the books and have hearings before the Docket says it’s to be heard in Court? The Judges are on the take too.; And where they’re taking it I wouldn’t like to see.

  • Hope Larkin-Bregley

    What are you hiding from the citizens who inhale the the air and drink the water? If you do not divulge, you are hiding something bad, of course all in the name of money,profit, but money still does not trump honesty and health and patriotic values like not ruining the land and water in this country. We all know you have had a very good run raping and pillaging the once pristine land and water of PA and yes you took full advantage of the economic downturn (Certainly you read Shock Doctrine! for pointers) but face reality. Take your millions/billions and turn to solar and wind. Otherwise,we are all screwed and think of all the love you will receive when you stop acting like some alien, subterrainian species of diggers and defoulers who care nothing for the future of the earth.

  • Sjanna

    The gas industry must be made to publicly disclose the problems they have caused. Fracking has been proven to be dangerous to our environment and our health. Let the court records be read by all!

  • BobSchmetzer

    Judge Pozonsky ruled on the Hallowich case with a gag order. Shortly after he was relieved of his dutys as Criminal court judge. He also is under investigation for destroying evidence from past cases that could have been appealed. He quit and moved to Alaska and was hammered by the media for getting a job without joining the bar association or living there the required amount of time to qualify. He Quit because of public pressure and embarrased those who politically hired him. Now , lets see if we can get some justice in Pennsylvania.

    • Gloria

      About 3 days ago Pozonsky resigned from his position in Alaska. Hmmm.

  • John Trallo

    There is so much at stake here. Not only our public health and safety, but our democracy is at stake. How dare the gas industry, or any industry, hold people hostage by imposing gag orders on them. It’s not the settlement, or the details of the damage caused the Hallowich’s that they are hiding. The industry has too long been getting away with claiming “There has been no DOCUMENTED case of contamination from gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing”. The key word is ‘DOCUMENTED’. They are trying to protect their public image, and will continue to perpetuate their ‘big lie’ as long as no one is allowed to go on record. The silence must be broken, the truth must be told, the public needs and desrves transparency, and this industry needs to be held accountable and liable for the damage they’ve inflicted and the lives they’ve ruined. Without truth… without justice… we are lambs to the slaughter. This has got to stop, now!

    • Liz Rosenbaum

      Agreed! The “undocumented” cases of health impacts and damages are piling up, and the industry remains determined to keep a lid on them. There’s now a river of payouts to victims, just beyond public view. Settled and sealed, those cases tell the true story of shale gas production impacts, and it’s not being told. They say extraction comes with “some risks” yet, as such, we cannot accurately define those risks.

  • Lois Drumheller

    Transparency on the issue, please. The records should be made public. First, we had to deal with proprietary chemical compounds that pressurized with sand and much water, was dumped illegally into our clean streams, then, after evidenced to back up induced sickness was gagged, this nonsense appears in the courts… ENOUGH!

  • Dissenta

    Ditto the comment below by yogamama: “If fracking is so safe, why all the secrecy?” And why aren’t non-disclosure agreements related to shale gas operations illegal? If fossil fuel industries across the board let the public have the truth, they know they’d have a PR disaster on their hands, like the cigarette industry did, so they’ve suckered our elected leaders into going along with secrecy, not just about the chemicals going down but toxic and radioactive compounds flowing back up. But the courts don’t have to go along. Bravo!

  • Stephen Cleghorn

    Of course the records of the Hallowich cases should be open to the public. They should have never been sealed in the first place. If Range Resources et al are so sure that they did not cause harm to the Hallowich family, they should be the first to insist that these records be unsealed. Of course they are not because they know they did harm, and that such harm could affect many more people wherever they drill. We need to court to protect the public by allowing these records to be read and studied in the interests of protecting public health.


    This family was LUCKY to get out ALIVE , however just getting “paid off ” to go away and not be able to speak of the dangers and horrors which occur when you are involved in a gas lease (or a nearby lease you have no control over ) is NOT ACCEPTABLE …we are still living in AMERICA , we as citizens have basic rights which continue to be violated by the gas industry and those ( well MOST ) in power ..”look the other way ” and allow these injustices to continue . A gag order on yet ANOTHER water contamination case is simply not acceptable ! This must be stopped and fines do not wipe out LIVES DESTROYED!God bless Stephanie and her family I wish them long lives and good health and freedom of SPEACH!

  • loretta weir

    If you love democracy…demand the records be open!Gag orders on families affected by this industry’s toxic operation + gag orders on physicians and practitioners (Act 13) = admission of guilt to the deliberate contamination/poisoning of the people of Pennsylvania. It’s that simple

  • Marianne Waldow

    Thanks to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Observer-Reporter for standing up for transparency in this matter. The public health is of great concern here and it is appalling that the court records were sealed on the Hallowich v. Range Resources contamination case.

    The public must be given access to all considerations of regulations and cases of claimed contamination and mishandling of fracking waste. There are so many questionable chemicals involved in fracking, both known and unknown. It is our right to be informed. The state government should stop doing the bidding of the gas industry and consider its own citizens and their future.

    Please contact your state representatives and let know how important this is.

    Thanks again for the great investigative journalism!

  • Sheila Cohen

    Exemptions to federal legislation, gag orders on doctors in PA, nondisclosure agreements, industry attacks on scientists attempting to do research, and industry reports with questionable/not peer reviewed research prevents science in the public interest from moving forward.

    Since hydrofracking for shale gas took off around 2005, scientists in many fields continue their struggle to gather data in an attempt to understand the risks associated with this process.

    Getting court records unsealed is but ONE step to move the science forward.

  • Marcellas Whales

    What? Some taxpayers demand the right to know how BIG GAS AND OIL are POISONING the PLANET.
    You don’t REALLY want to know. You can’t prove it.

    People, public health, soil, air, water, food, pharmaceuticals, banking, insurance, mineral rights, property values, democracy, and soon the essential infrastructure of your little community. Wait till those abandoned coal mines collapse and all the aged water and sewer and gas pipes leak. Entitlement?
    By Golly that didn’t happen in Texas and Oklahoma and you can’t prove it –All the way down to each flame retardant baby and his carcinogenic bottle.

  • Seth Bush

    I have personally visited the Hallowich family at their home, and I was very deeply shaken by the risks to health and well-being imposed upon them by Range Resources. They are not imagining their situation, and the proceedings of their case with Range must be disclosed to the public so that Range can be held accountable for their actions.

  • Joanne Corey

    Information on damage to human health and the environment should never be sealed. It’s important for people to know of dangers and for scientists to be able to study these cases for the public good.

  • Arlene Mercurio

    Non-disclosure agreements couldn’t be more clear. They are the industry saying, ‘We have something to hide.’

  • Lisa Padilla

    Unseal the records. – This is ridiculous. If you are cavalier enough not to think that our health is in question then think about but the wealth and well-being of the state that is also in jeopardy. Want to buy a home or tax a home in a toxic waste land – good luck to our values across the board!!!!

  • Clairesse

    how can the public know what is going on if health problems and water problems are not permitted to be disclosed due to gag orders imposed on families. if famlies want water replacement, they aren’t allowed to talk. If they want compensated for the loss of their homes, they can’t talk. how is this freedom of speech?

  • Douglas Shields

    Time For A Review

    Let’s see, a “friendly local” Washington Court of Common Pleas Judge Paul Posonsky, prevents the press from viewing sealed Court documents in the settlement between Range Resources (frackers) and a harmed-by-fracking Washington County family.

    Judge Posonsky unexpectedly resigns his well paid ($169,500) PA Court of Common Pleas Judgeship, sells his home ($415K), moves to Alaska and, last October, becomes a Workers Comp. hearing officer ($79K).

    Former PA Judge, now Workers Comp Hearing officer Pozonsky “resigns” from that Alaska job the same day amid questions about whether his family political connections played a role in his hiring.

    Pozonsky’s brother-in-law is Chuck Kopp, an aide Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Fred Dyson,

    Read more:

    In the meantime, Judge’s Pozonsky’s decision (to not hear any argument as to the merits of unsealing the case records in the Range Resources poisoning/property damage case) is overturned on appeal by Superior Court.

    The judge, Paul Pozonsky, is now under investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.

    Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone’s Office, which didn’t seek the destruction order, asked Pozonsky on May 9 to reverse his decision, saying one of the cases still could be appealed. Vittone wrote that a blanket order “would permit the undocumented destruction of such evidence outside the knowledge of a responsible agency and without any documentation of the destruction.”

    Former Judge Pozonsky (and magician) seems to have a habit of making things disappear.

    Read more:

    1. Glad the Superior Court decided to reverse the wandering, friendly Judge and orders a hearing on the merits of the press motion to unseal the case. 2. The U.S. Department of Justice, along wit the PA AG, should look into the error prone and wandering Washington Judge. He doesn’t pass the smell test at all.

    • Gloria

      About 3 days ago former judge, Pozonsky, resigned from his position in Alaska.

  • Casey Pegg

    This is an issue of democracy and transparency. Do we need a fracking wiki leaks??

  • Maria Payan

    This involves public health. TRANSPARENCY NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Scott

    Let all the information regarding this wonderful family and the nightmare they have lived with flow freely and not be locked away. In the end, the truth will prevail. After spending time with this caring, loving and special family I feel that releasing the sealed court documents to the public will help thousands of people by exposing more of the environmental dangers associated with the extraction of natural gas and the aftermath. Studies have proven that this process in its entireity brings huge dangers to our air and water and consequently our health. If the gas company involved has nothing to hide why do they want this information sealed from the public and media?

  • Brian

    Without transparency, there is neither democracy nor justice.

  • loretta weir

    If this industry did not contaminate the air and water, in addition to poisoning the residents …there would be no need for paying off our politicians, spending millions in propaganda ads that systematically deny any and all claims of said contamination, gag orders that prevent health impacts that alert the public, Act 13 legislation that takes away rights, on an on and on. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure this one out! Nothing about this should be legal, from the ‘land men’ who lied to folks on out! We have become a third world nation.

  • Kathryn Hilton

    Not providing the public with information that is vital to PUBLIC HEALTH is an atrocity. We have the right to know what is going on with Natural Gas drilling in our communities. Information being held hostage by industry leaders is an example of their deceit. The ability for Natural Gas to pull puppet strings with government agencies shows first, that our government is not even mildly concerned with our well being, and secondly that industry itself has NO regard for human health. …”Drilling is just the beginning” of total devastation for PA. -Unfortunately, I am not being dramatic and if you think I am- I beg you to do some research where an industry lackey is not involved.

  • Janet Lorek-Perine

    I know families that have taken a settlement because of water ruined, livestock that have died, ongoing health problems that have all arose because of the unconventional drilling in and around their property. In return by settling, they are not allowed to speak of any incidents caused by the contamination or negative effects. These families are pushed to the point to either settle and receive some type of restitution or face ongoing court battles which could last for years and amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses. This is not justice and it continues to harm the lives of families where large oil and gas companies take over the land.

  • CitizenK

    Poisoning our land, water, air and people–then making it illegal to talk about what’s happening–is similar to the classic cycle of ABUSE. Denial and lies allow its perpetuation. As Derrick Jensen says in the preface of A Language Older than Words, “the worst thing my father did went beyond the hitting and the raping to the denial that any of it ever occurred.”…Jensen also points out that the lies (“My family is happy”…”Fracking is safe”) don’t have to be believable, they just act as barriers to the truth. Truth must be avoided at all cost. Silence is crucial to domination.

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