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Judge says Washington County drilling lawsuit is public record

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 6:54 p.m.

A judge in Washington County said the public has the right to see a sealed settlement between gas drilling companies and a family that claimed the companies' operations damaged their health.

Judge Debbie O'Dell-Seneca ruled on Wednesday that openness in the court system is more important than the interests of the companies. The settlement paid out $750,000, including more than $150,000 in legal fees.

Stephanie and Chris Hallowich initiated a case against Range Resources, MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream Partners in 2010.

The sides settled their dispute in July 2011, but the companies asked that the records be sealed, and another judge agreed.

Media organizations challenged that decision, and O'Dell-Seneca ruled in their favor.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said in a statement, “Range does not have concerns with the judge's decision, which we greatly respect, to make the court file public. This information combined with the vast public data accessible through the DEP's extensive investigations should provide the public with even greater clarity that shale gas is being developed safely and responsibly.”

Trib Total Media staffwriter Timothy Puko contributed to this story.

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