Appalachian Basin

NRDC Re-Opens Yet Another Closed Book

It must be a slow week for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), since they have once again decided to re-open the closed book that is the Hallowich case in southwest Pennsylvania.  Despite all of the court documents being public information, NRDC staffer Kate Sinding still disregards the facts involving the case. Her recent blog post titled “Oil and gas industry must stop silencing victims” attempts to vilify a gas company for something that was mutually agreed upon, and alleges impacts that are not only speculative, but actually demonstrably false.

For background on this court case please see here and here, where we have documented the facts. With complete disregard for these facts and publicly available information, Sinding brings up adverse health effects experienced by the family:

Sinding: “Before long, the Hallowich parents began to experience headaches, sore throats, and burning eyes.”

FACT: The Hallowiches signed an affidavit, under oath and in consultation with their own attorney, affirming there was no evidence to support their claims of negative health impacts or their children.

  • Affidavit: “The minors have alleged claims for nuisance and personal injury in connection with Defendants’ business operations. There is presently no medical evidence supporting that these claims are related to any exposure to Defendants’ business operations as set forth in Plaintiffs’ Complaint…And presently, the minors are healthy and have no symptoms that may allegedly be related to Defendants’ business operations.” (p. 2)

Besides the Hallowiches admitting to no adverse health effects, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (Pa. DEP) investigated the family’s reports of contaminated water and elevated air emissions, finding:

Pa. DEP: “Mrs. Hallowich alleges that the drilling of the gas well polluted the aquifer. As the following will demonstrate, we are lacking any direct evidence to prove this assertion.” (DEP correspondence, Aug. 2009)

Pa. DEP: Did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” (DEP air sampling report for SW Pa., Nov. 2010)

Sinding goes on to bring up the “mutual non-disparagement clause,” which, in essence would keep the settlement agreement sealed and confidential.

Sinding: “So-called nondisclosure agreements- ‘gag orders’ to the rest of us – are standard operating procedure in oil and gas settlements with affected families.”

She went on to say:

“Because the settlement affected minor children, a judge had to approve it.”

FACT: It was the Hallowiches, not the gas companies, who requested that the settlement agreement be sealed and kept confidential.

  • Peter Villari, attorney for the Hallowiches: “…The only thing that’s not in it was the actual settlement agreement, the matters we wanted to be sealed and not exposed to the docket at any time until it was sealed.” (p. 3)

FACT: The mutual nondisclosure agreement never affected the children.

  • Matt Pitzarella, Range Resources spokesman: “Those comments are not accurate from our former outside counsel and are not reflective of our interpretation of the settlement. The seven and ten year olds are free to discuss whatever they wish now and when they are of age.” (NPR, August 2013)
  •  Days after its initial report on the “gag order,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette finally acknowledged the facts: “Hallowich children not part of Marcellus Shale gag order agreement.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 2013)

“A letter from Range Resources attorney, David Poole, again reaffirmed that the children were never part of the settlement agreement:

“Obviously the Hallowich’s minor children did not sign the settlement agreement, they are not even named in the settlement agreement and other provisions of the settlement agreement could not be performed by them (e.g. conveyance of the real property), even though the collective defined term, ‘Hallowichs’ is used in those provisions as well… Range has never, at any time, had the intention of seeking to hold a minor child legally accountable for a breach of that provision of the settlement agreement.” (Letter to Vallari re kids)

Considering all of the court documents are public information, one would think the NRDC would actually do their homework and provide factual information to assert their claims against hydraulic fracturing and shale development – or at least use Google!  Once again, that is unfortunately not the case.

Sinding ends by stating, “If the industry really wants to try to make the case that the fracking process is green, it will have to abandon its tactic of trying to make public discourse fade to black.”

Hydraulic fracturing and shale development have led to a 20-year-low of CO2 emissions – all emissions for that matter – while supplying thousands of well-paying jobs to hardworking Americans. Thanks in no small part to natural gas released through hydraulic fracturing, New York City residents – including Sinding – are breathing the cleanest air in nearly 50 years.

The industry doesn’t need to try and make the case that fracking is green; it’s already a fact for those willing to accept the truth.


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