Court documents unsealed in a Pennsylvania lawsuit against Fort Worth-based Range Resources and others show the companies paid $750,000 for the homeowner's property, attorney fees and related claims. The records had been sealed since the July 2011 settlement but two Pennsylvania newspapers had sought to have them made public, which a judge approved on Wednesday.
The case concerns Chris and Stephanie Hallowich, who in June 2005 purchased 10 acres in Hickory, Penn., a rural area. They started building their home there in November 2006. "Unknown to the plaintiffs, the prior owner, Nancy Stewart, had subdivided the property and then sold a portion to defendant Range Resources Corp. for the purpose of drilling natural gas wells," according to court documents. Stewart also signed a mineral rights lease on the property, the documents say. By 2008 the Hallowich home was in the proximity of four natural gas wells drilled by Range, as well as a compressor station and a gas treatment facility operated by other companies, who were also defendants in the suit. The Hallowich family and another neighboring landowner soon complained of water contamination. The family sued Range, MarkWest Energy Partners, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in 2010. The state regulator had found high concentrations of some compounds, including manganese, in the landowners' water but could not say Range or the other companies were responsible.
According to a copy of the settlement released Thursday, the companies agreed to pay a total of $750,000. Of that, $594,820.37 went to the family, including trust accounts of $10,000 for each of the couple's two small children. The settlement says the children's "alleged claims involve nuisance and personal injury. There is presently no medical evidence that support that these claims are related to any exposure to the activities of defendants as set forth in plaintiff's complaint." The family's legal counsel received 20 percent of the settlement, or $150,000, plus $5,179.63 in expenses.
Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella, in an e-mailed statement, said: "The family began building their home after several early Marcellus wells and associated infrastructure was starting to be developed near them. The family was in a unique situation and one that was not ideal for them or for Range. Range believed that the right thing to do was to allow both sides to move forward." He said the company "does not have concerns with the judge's decision, which we greatly respect, to make the court file public. This information combined with the vast public 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."
A link to the documents, posted online by State Impact Pennsylvania, can be found here.
-- Jim Fuquay