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Pennsylvania Records Indicate Disgruntled Family Still Receives Royalties

A Pennsylvania family that had sued Range Resources Corp. and other midstream operators for allegedly contaminating its property with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) fluids is still receiving monthly royalty payments, according to court-released settlement documents.

"Exhibit B," a 17-page document dated July 28, 2011, was restored to the public record Monday by Washington County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca, who cited the importance of transparency (see Shale DailyMarch 22).

Chris and Stephanie Hallowich had filed a lawsuit in May 2010 against Range and midstreamers MarkWest Energy Partners LP, MarkWest Energy Group LLC, and Laurel Mountain Midstream, a joint venture of Williams Partners LP (51%) and Chevron Corp. (49%) (Hallowich v. Range Resources Corp., No. C-63-CV-201003954).

Previously unsealed documents from the case indicated Range and the family agreed to settle the lawsuit for $750,000, and Range paid for moving expenses and took possession of the family's home in Mt. Pleasant Township. The two sides also agreed to arbitrate any future personal injury claims. However, the unsealed documents show that the family also agreed not to move to a new address within two miles of any existing facilities owned or operated by Range, MarkWest or Laurel, or within 1,000 feet of existing leases held by the companies. The family also agreed not to protest any oil and gas activity within 1,000 feet of any property it owned, used, occupied or rented in the future.

On the issue of future personal injury claims, Range said it did not believe the family was exposed to any environmental or safety hazards, but the company still agreed to pay for initial comprehensive medical exams for the Hallowich family, including two minors. Both sides also agreed not to disparage each other publicly or admit wrongdoing. The Hallowichs agreed not to participate or comment on any future litigation against the companies.

"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," Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said Wednesday. "They 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."

Although the Hallowichs no longer live on the property at the heart of the dispute, the settlement states that the family has "received and will continue to receive oil and natural gas royalties under the terms of the lease." Pitzarella said he could not disclose how much in royalties would be received, but the family apparently continues to receive them monthly.

 The two sides in the Hallowich case agreed to settle the matter behind closed doors on Aug. 23, 2011. On the date of the hearing, two Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters requested, but were denied, permission to attend the settlement conference. Judge Paul Pozonsky on the day of the conference signed and filed a joint motion from both sides in the Hallowich case to seal the record. The Post-Gazette filed a petition to intervene on Sept. 6, 2011; the Washington, PA's Observer-Reporter also joined the motion. Pozonsky denied the petitions in January 2012 but was overruled by the state Superior Court (see Shale DailyDec. 11, 2012).

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