A Washington County judge this morning ordered unsealed a court-approved settlement between Marcellus Shale development companies and a family that claimed the drilling operations damaged their health.
In a 32-page opinion, President Judge Debbie O'Dell-Seneca found that the presumption of openness in the court system must trump the interest of the companies to keep the record sealed.
Stephanie and Chris Hallowich initiated a case against Range Resources, MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream Partners on May 27, 2010. No official complaint was ever filed and instead, the case was settled by the parties in July 2011.
The defendants asked that the settlement conference and documents be sealed, a request former Washington County Common Pleas Judge Paul Pozonsky granted Aug. 23, 2011.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Washington Observer-Reporter challenged that decision.
The state Superior Court remanded the matter back to the trial court.
TVNL Comment: This is a landmark ruling. A link to a transcript of the decision can be found here.