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PA Superior Court Sides with Newspapers in Challenging Fracking’s Toxic Secrets

December 9, 2012

Stephanie Hallowich with her two children in November 2010. Photo: Mark Schmerling

Good news for those trying to shine a light into the darkness of fracking secrecy: the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has ruled in favor of two newspapers, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Observer-Reporter, seeking to unseal court records in the Hallowich v. Range Resources case.

Susan Phillips reports on StateImpact, “Appeals Court Agrees with Newspapers in Sealed Fracking Case“:

Hallowich v. Range Resources is one of the most closely watched cases involving claims of health impacts and property damage against a Marcellus Shale gas driller. But when the case was settled, the Court of Common Pleas sealed all the records. Reporters from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had been barred by court employees from observing a hearing that had been held several days before it was listed on the public docket. The paper’s publisher sued, and was later joined by another daily newspaper, the Observer-Reporter.

In a ruling issued Friday, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania says the lower trial court erred in not considering the motion to unseal court records.

Read the full story here. Please add your comment to the discussion online, increasing the demand for the full truth.  More journalists and newspapers need to step up to confront the array of means the shale gas industry has at their disposal for keeping toxic secrets, from the Halliburton Loophole to gag orders, non-disclosure clauses, and sealed records. Kudos to the Post-Gazette for initiating the suit, and to all the journalists reporting steadily on this important case.

Contaminated water and air: acetone, acrilonitrile, ethyl benzene, toluene…

I met Stephanie Hallowich in 2010, saw the gigantic fracking waste pit practically in her back yard, and witnessed the Marcellus Shale gas drilling wellpads which gradually encircled her. A compressor station added to the health hazards she and her family — her husband Chris and their two young children — faced on a daily basis., an important site which documents on-the- ground impacts from fracking, reports on the Hallowich family’s experience:

The impoundment dam went from holding fresh water to flowback, and holes developed in the plastic liner. Results from water tests on their well water began showing bizarre chemicals like acetone and acrylonitrile, as well as toluene, ethyl benzene, tetra-chlorethylene and styrene.

Please read more, and see a photo-essay showing the toxic shale industry which turned Stephanie and her family into environmental refugees, here. Here’s some of the drilling activity behind Stephanie’s house:

Drilling activity near Stephanie Hallowich’s house, before she and her family became environmental refugees. Photo:


Stephanie Hallowich’s former home is just at the top left of this photo. Photo:

Health Impacts, then Forced Silence

The narrative about Stephanie Hallowich’s harrowing experience continues:

 Then the compressor station doubled in size from two compressors to four. Soon the children were experiencing nose bleeds, similar to what has been reported from residents of Dish, Texas, another small area overpopulated with compressor stations.

Stephanie Hallowich said,

“We have a gas plant and compressor station next door, and we’ve had a lot of air issues, where it smells really bad, we get burning eyes, burning throats, headaches, ringing ears; we don’t know what’s coming out. We recently had some air testing done and it’s shown that there are high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) coming out of these plants. And with the compressor station and the plant being so close together, and two completely different companies, they each have their own air permit. First of all, they should never be allowed that close together because the emissions are too extreme. The DEP doesn’t look at the cumulative effect of these emissions coming out so we’re getting kind of a double whammy of what would be allowed anywhere else.”

When it became clear that neither Range Resources nor Pennsylvania DEP were going to do anything to stop the harms to her and her children’s health, Stephanie and Chris Hallowich felt they had no choice but to file a lawsuit. They moved away to protect their children’s health. The lawsuit’s outcome is unknown because the case was sealed.

We conjecture that Stephanie’s inability to continue to speak out publicly is due to a non-disclosure clause. You know– the kind of non-disclosure clause that enables the industry to pressure a family desperately in need of clean air, clean water, a safe home, and secure medical care, into exchanging health for silence. The kind of non-disclosure clause which should be abolished where impacts from toxic industrial practices are involved.

When Stephanie fell silent, her voice became another casualty in the shale gas industry’s war on truth. We need facts, but instead we have FACTS — a “Fast-Accumulating Cascade of Toxic Secrets,” thanks to the industry’s many ways of preventing scrutiny and silencing the harmed.

This summer, in Lycoming County, a fracking waste pit liner was found to have 75 – 100 holes in it. So the one patch on the leaky pit liner out back of Stephanie and Chris Hallowich’s place is not terrifically reassuring. The pit liner leaked anyway.

Pit liner that leaked

Patch on a plastic fracking pit liner that leaked. Photo:

  1. Jim permalink
    December 9, 2012 10:22 am

    A small step forward. Tanks for reporting!

  2. frankinbun permalink
    December 9, 2012 5:41 pm

    It’s amazing how stupid seemingly intelligent people can be. Pumping toxins into the ground is safe? That’s like storing spent fuel rods on the roof, or clean coals mountaintop removal, or the “war on terror”. The zombies are among us.

  3. Claudia Crane permalink
    December 9, 2012 8:24 pm

    If only the Hallowiches could safely talk! I wonder if there is any precedent in this country for reversal of non-disclosure orders following any settlement resembling theirs?

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      December 10, 2012 9:30 am

      Good question, Claudia. Maybe some legal eagles in the public health sector can find out for us. Abolishing non-disclosure clauses where public health and safety are concerned would protect life and health. When it comes to high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, we need the equivalent of the FAA’s “black box” which makes it mandatory for private airlines to reveal what went wrong in every plane accident.

  4. December 10, 2012 9:16 pm

    Iris is right. All citizens should be able to access information.

  5. Mike permalink
    August 4, 2013 12:37 pm

    The document release from the lawsuit suggests otherwise

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