Superior Court quashes Midwest Energy’s appeal in Hallowich case

Superior Court quashes Midwest Energy’s appeal in Hallowich case by Barbara Miller, October 9, 2013, Observer Reporter
State Superior Court dismissed MarkWest Energy’s appeal of a Washington County Court decision that unsealed a previously secret settlement between Marcellus Shale firms and the Hallowich family, former residents of Mt. Pleasant Township who moved from their home and agreed to silence their criticism of the industry. The two-sentence order from the appellate court Tuesday granted requests by the Observer-Reporter and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to quash the appeal and dismissed as moot the scheduling of oral argument and the filing of briefs by the newspapers.

“We are pleased with the outcome of the case,” said Liz Rogers, Observer-Reporter editor. “Though it was a long and protracted affair, we were steadfast in our resolve that the public was entitled to the details of the settlement.” … The only legal recourse that seemed to be open to MarkWest would be a petition to the state Supreme Court to take the case, which has been before Pennsylvania courts for two years. … Stephanie and Chris Hallowich made news internationally in claims that their children’s health was affected by drilling and initiated legal proceedings against Range Resources Corp., Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream, MarkWest Energy Partners LP and MarkWest Energy Group LLC. In August 2011 and thereafter, Pozonsky denied a request that a reporter have access to the settlement proceeding and to the record related to the proceeding. When Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca took the case, she ordered in March the unsealing of the record, but an exhibit that contained the meat of the settlement was missing.

More hearings ensued in which the Observer-Reporter and the Post-Gazette sought details of the $750,000 settlement Range Resources paid to the Hallowiches to move from their Mt. Pleasant Township home. When the exhibit became public in August, it became apparent that, under the terms of the settlement, the Hallowiches were still allowed to keep the monthly royalty payments for natural gas extraction on their former property. … 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. 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. [Emphasis added]

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