Full Hallowich settlement released to the public

August 12, 2013
Stephanie Hallowich

The $750,000 settlement Range Resources paid to the Hallowich family to move from their Mt. Pleasant Township home in 2011 still allows them to keep the monthly royalty payments for natural gas extraction on their former property.

That detail and other information came to light Monday when the missing settlement agreement between the former Mt. Pleasant couple and the Marcellus Shale natural gas driller was made public under a court order by Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca.

The settlement was finalized Aug. 23, 2011, but sealed and kept from the public’s view for nearly two years. The linchpin of the settlement, which had mysteriously vanished, was released this week after the Observer-Reporter and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sued to gain access to the documents.

It offers new details of the agreement that followed the bitter and protracted legal battle by the Hallowiches after they made claims their children’s health was affected by drilling.

However, the settlement included language in which both sides agree there were no health or environmental effects from natural gas drilling near the property, although it gives the Hallowiches options if they suspect medical problems in the future. The settlement called for baseline medical records and allows for future appointments with a pre-approved doctor, with any potential diagnosis suspected to be related to drilling to be reviewed by an arbitrator.

The six-figure settlement also allows Stephanie and Christopher Hallowich to still receive royalty payments from drilling.

The family told National Geographic magazine in 2010 that they typically received $300 to $400 per month in royalty payments from the natural gas produced on the land. Range Resources now owns the home and property, but the settlement stipulates the family will continue to receive those royalty payments despite having moved from the property nearly two years ago.

Peter Villari, the attorney for the Hallowiches, did not return a phone seeking comment on the release of the settlement agreement.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the agreement shows there were no health or environmental impacts from gas drilling near the property. He added it was unusual circumstances that led to the dispute, which were rectified through the settlement.

“They had 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,” Pitzarella wrote in an emailed statement.

One of the more striking parts of the settlement is a “joint statement” from both sides that inexplicably was never released to the public.

“The Hallowich family appreciates Range Resources’ purchase of their property, and thanks Range Resources for assisting them in relocating to their new home,” the final sentence of the joint statement reads.

That stands in stark contrast to the demeanor the Hallowiches displayed when the agreement was finalized two years ago. According to the transcripts from the private court hearing in 2011, the Hallowiches appear to lament the decision to settle.

One of the biggest issues to them was whether a gag order the parents were under extended to their two children, ages 10 and 7 at the time. Range’s attorney said at the time that it did, but the company has since changed its position.

According to the terms, Range Resources was required to make the $750,000 payment within 21 days of it being finalized. In return, the family vacated the Mt. Pleasant property within 60 days and was permitted to recoup moving costs from the driller.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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