Range Resources Corp. and other natural-gas drillers paid a Pennsylvania family $750,000 to settle claims the companies were contaminating their water, according to unsealed court records.
MarkWest Energy Partners LP (MWE) and Williams Cos. (WMB)’s Williams Gas unit joined in the June 2011 agreement, which included the transfer of Chris and Stephanie Hallowich’s home in Hickory, Pennsylvania, and payment of $750,000, according to court records unsealed in Common Pleas Court in Washington County.
The settlement terms were included among more than 900 pages of documents Common Pleas Court Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca ordered unsealed yesterday after rejecting the companies’ arguments that such a move threatened their right to privacy.
In resolving disputes with homeowners from Texas to Pennsylvania, gas drillers have often demanded secrecy in exchange for buying their properties, delivering fresh water or paying out a settlement.
Environmental groups such as Earthjustice praised O’Dell- Seneca’s ruling, saying it would help to shed light on the health risks of fracking. Range Resources, which fought the release, said yesterday through a spokesman that it welcomed the disclosure.
Fracking, in which water, sand and chemicals are shot underground to break apart rock and free trapped natural gas, has brought a boom in energy production to Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado, and lowered natural gas prices.
The process has been the target of complaints from landowners and farmers, who say leaks from holding ponds, spills and underground ruptures have led to contamination of their water.
The Hallowichs filed notice to sue Range and other gas drillers in 2010, claiming the drilling operators and gas- processing facilities failed to ahere to Pennsylvania environmental law for air, water and soil, according to court documents.
Drilling on land adjacent to their property polluted their well and caused them to suffer burning eyes, sore throats, severe headaches and other symptoms from toxic gas, according to the records.
The Hallowichs reached the settlement in 2011 and agreed with the gas drillers to keep the records confidential. Unlike most settlements, the deal required court approval because their minor children were parties to the case. That put the settlement in court, where newspapers and public interest groups challenged an order sealing the case.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Hallowichs received $544,820. Their two children got $10,000 apiece with the rest going to attorneys’ fees, according to court documents.
The case is Hallowich v. Range Resources Corp. (RRC), 2010-3954, Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Washington).
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