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Personal experiences from the Marcellus Shale


When Chris and Stephanie Hallowich built their family’s new home on 10 pristine acres in Mount Pleasant Township near Hickory Pa, there wasn’t much Marcellus production activity close by. Over the next few years, several gas wells, a large impoundment dam, a cryogenic gas processing facility and a compressor station were all constructed within several thousand feet of their home.

Hallowich frack pit
Stephanie's family home in Hickory below their new neighbor,
a huge impoundment dam holding recycled frac fluids.

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.

Pit liner that leaked
Patch on one of the holes in the frac pit liner

They found out one of the chemicals is incredibly dangerous to breathe in when showering, even more so than from dermal contact or ingesting it. Since the Pennsylvania DEP doesn’t test well water for any volatile organic compounds, they weren’t much help to the Hallowich family. November 2, 2012 UPDATE: Recent evidence has revealed the Pa. DEP was testing water wells around drilling for VOC's but withholding some of the results from certain affected individuals.

Stephanie Hallowich home surrounded by Marcellus Shale activities

As Stephanie put it, “People don’t know where to go, people don’t know what to do. People call the DEP because they’ve got water problems and the DEP tests for 14 things, and their water’s black and oily, and the DEP says there’s nothing in it, it’s safe to drink!  Nobody’s testing for VOC’s and there are hundreds of those that they’re using all over the country, all the different companies, to frack with. Who are we supposed to go to? The burden falls upon the landowner to pay for all this testing.”


See 1:48 mark of the video above for a look at Stephanie's backyard, in this interview with Larry Chome, the Mt Pleasant Township zoning officer. Mr Chome tells how construction took place without the proper permitting.

In the meantime, the cryogenic facility, which was initially built without the proper local permits, began to enlarge. 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.

Cryogenic facility in their backyard
(Note the roof of Hallowich's house in center left of photo)

The Hallowich family also began to notice how much better they felt when they were away from their “Gasland” property for any extended period of time.

Stephanie Hallowich explains it this way, “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.”

Stewart compressor station following 2010 expansion

She continues, “When the man came to take the air sampling tests, he didn’t even have the equipment completely out of the car and the alarm went off for the VOC’s, and the alarms goes off at 50 parts per million. We were above that, just in our driveway. There was no odor that day, nothing that would give us a clue that we were being exposed to that. That’s where my kids play, their swing set is right next to that. That’s where they spend all their time. We have a wind sock in the background because we watch which way the wind blows so we know if anything is coming from the plant or compressor. The levels are so high, and with what they have breathed in, we don’t know what the long term effects are going to be.

Aly's Gasland in Hickory
Aly's Gasland

The only logical choice for the Hallowich family was abandoning their new home for the sake of their own health.

They aren’t the first Marcellus Shale Refugees and surely won’t be the last.

July 21, 2010

Hallowich independent air quality testing

Photos of Marcellus shale activities near the Hallowich's home

Construction of the Stewart Impoundment
Temporary water pipelines run from Cross Creek Lake. Pipes like these led to holes in the plastic pit liner and water from that lake was only supposed to be used for fracking gas wells inside the park.
Water supply line

Pa DEP Fines

Permit Num: 125-22619
Municipality: Mount Pleasant 
County: Washington
Well Name: Stewart, Nancy Unit 1
Company: Range Resources
Incident Date: Sometime before 6/5/2008
Inspection Date: 6/5/2008
Fine Date: 2009-04-02
Fine: $64,000
Group Fine: Yes (25)
Lead Permit: 081-20063 (25)
Violation: Failure to obtain a withdrawal permit prior to withdrawing water from a local stream to help drill the well. Response: Company obtained a withdrawal permit.

Permit Num: 125-22641
Municipality: Mount Pleasant 
County: Washington
Well Name: Stewart, Nancy Unit 4
Company: Range Resources
Incident Date: Sometime before 6/5/2008
Inspection Date: 6/5/2008
Fine Date: 2009-04-02
Fine: $64,000
Group Fine: Yes (25)
Lead Permit: 081-20063 (25)
Violation: Failure to obtain a withdrawal permit prior to withdrawing water from a local stream to help drill the well.
Response: Company obtained a withdrawal permit.

Gas well behind the Hallowich house
Another gas well near their house
Construction of the dew point control facility in their "backyard"
Compressor installed
Initial construction of a second facility in their "backyard"
Stewart Compressor Station

Drilling activities out back


When acrylonitrile turned up in Stephanie's well water, people tried to "explain it away," coming up with all kinds of reasons and excuses. None of them would link the presence of acrylonitrile to Marcellus Shale drilling. Some blamed the plastic rocks used as a decorative mulch near the water well cover. The manufacturer of those plastic rocks said it was impossible. That turned Stephanie's focus to other water wells in the Hickory area and marked the beginning of her volunteer work to help others with water and air quality problems near drilling.

With the help of volunteers at a professional lab in the Pittsburgh area, Stephanie began to assist others with professional testing of their well water. This was particularly important since the Pennsylvania DEP does not test for acrylonitrile or any volatile organic compounds (VOC's).

In one set of test results, an alarmingly high level of acrylonitrile was discovered in Darrell Smitsky's well water. A pattern began to emerge when acrylonitrile also turned up in nearly half of all the water wells tested near Marcellus drilling sites in the Hickory, Pennsylvania area.

It wasn't long before news came in from other states, like West Virginia and Colorado, about acrylonitrile being present near gas drilling and fracking operations. But perhaps most alarming of all was its presence in Pittsburgh area tapwater, at 11-times the level permitted in Pennsylvania streams. Go figure, the frackers had been dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of drilling wastewater into Pittsburgh rivers, with the source of that particular drinking water being the Monongahela River.

Speaking of streams... acrylonitrile was also detected in the stream below the Hallowich's home, along with reports of sick and dead cattle in a nearby field. Have you tested your well water near gas drilling for acrylonitrile yet?

Agape Road Bible Camp flare
December 5, 2011
Bible Camp flare on Agape Road can be seen to the rear left of the Hallowich's former house and Frac pit that has been re-lined with a new black plastic liner

Newspaper stories about the judge who presided over the Hallowich case

Former Washington County, Pa judge expected to plead guilty today

He was charged with stealing drugs

By Molly Born
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

March 20, 2015 – A former Washington County judge accused of taking cocaine submitted as evidence in cases he presided over likely will plead guilty today as part of an agreement with prosecutors. Defense attorneys for Paul Pozonsky were still “honing” Thursday which crime or crimes he will plead to. The 59-year-old, who retired in 2012 during a state grand jury investigation into the allegations, was charged with theft, drug possession, misapplication of entrusted property, obstruction and conflict of interest, a violation of the state ethics law.

In 2012, investigators found some evidence bags in his chambers had been tampered with, their seals broken, with some of the drugs inside replaced with baking soda. Mr. Pozonsky’s DNA also was found. Visiting Judge Daniel Howsare of Bedford County, who is presiding over the case, denied Mr. Del Greco’s motion to suppress that evidence and scheduled the case for trial. Mr. Del Greco said sentencing will not occur today. Mr. Pozonsky, who is expected to appear in court, lives with his wife in her native Alaska.

Full story

Washington County judge orders Marcellus Shale development settlement records unsealed

By Paula Reed Ward
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

March 20, 2013 - 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. Frederick N. Frank, who represented the Post-Gazette, was pleased with the opinion. "We feel it's extremely well-reasoned," he said. "Of particular importance, she reasserted the burden is on the party seeking to seal the record and not the media." Further, he continued, "The analysis of the defendant's privacy rights was, again, particularly well-reasoned."

According to a summary of the settlement contained in the unsealed court records, Range Resources agreed to pay the Hallowich family $750,000. The settlement also established an arbitration process to assess any future claims of personal injury to the Hallowich's minor children, Nathan and Alyson, that could arise from their exposure to gas-drilling activities. The defendants have 30 days to file an appeal. Judge O'Dell-Seneca found that businesses do not have the same right to privacy as individuals. "Whether a right of privacy for businesses exists within the penumbral rights of Pennsylvania's constitution is a matter of first impression," the judge wrote. "It does not." The defendants claimed they had the right to privacy to protect the record from being unsealed.

Text of Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca's order in which she unsealed the Hallowich case (PDF offsite)

Ruling due on unsealing gas well settlement

By Don Hopey
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

January 19, 2013 - A closely watched legal challenge to the sealing of a court-approved settlement between Marcellus Shale development companies and the Washington County family that claimed the industrial operations damaged their health moved a step closer to resolution Friday. Washington County Court President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca presided over a one-hour 45-minute hearing in which Range Resources, MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream Partners argued that their agreement settling a personal injury lawsuit brought by Stephanie and Chris Hallowich and their two children should be kept secret.

"At one point in
the hearing, Judge Seneca admonished the industry counsel for linking its confidentiality argument to the protection of the rights of the Hallowichs' children. "What gives you the right or standing to assert the privacy rights of the minor children?" Judge Seneca asked Mr. Binotto. Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with Earthjustice, a New York-based environmental law organization, who sought to file a brief in support of opening the judicial record, said the settlement could contain important information about the impact of gas drilling operations on public health. Judge Seneca said she is still awaiting delivery of a transcript from state Superior Court, which ruled in December that Judge Pozonsky erred in denying the newspapers' requests to intervene and argue that the case file be unsealed.

Hallowich case returning to Washington County Court

By Linda Metz

December 8, 2012 - The state Superior Court in Harrisburg decided Friday that an attempt by the Observer-Reporter to unseal a legal settlement between a Mt. Pleasant Township couple and a group of gas drilling companies must be heard by a local trial court. Earlier this year, the O-R and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette filed arguments seeking the unsealing of the agreement between Stephanie and Chris Hallowich and Range Resources, MarkWest Energy Partners and Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream.

The newspapers contend that sealing the record is in violation of the common law rights of the media. On Sept. 6, 2011, the P-G petitioned the court to intervene, and the O-R joined the petition. Pozonsky contended that the newspapers should have sought to intervene in the case before final action was taken to seal the settlement. As a result of Friday’s ruling, the newspapers will now have the opportunity to present the argument in Washington County Court.


By Don Hopey
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

November 2, 2012 - The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection produces incomplete lab reports and uses them to dismiss complaints that Marcellus Shale gas development operations have contaminated residential water supplies and made people sick, according to court documents. In response, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, Thursday called on state and federal agencies to investigate the DEP for "alleged misconduct and fraud" revealed by sworn depositions in a civil case currently in Washington County Common Pleas Court."This is beyond outrageous," Mr. White said. "Anyone who relied on the DEP for the truth about whether their water has been impacted by drilling activities has apparently been intentionally deprived of critical health and safety information by their own government."



The letter sent to Rep. White alerting him of these issues can be found at:

The deposition of TaruUpadhyay, technical director of PA DEP Laboratory can be found at:

Mt. Pleasant Twp. OKs dew point facility

June 10, 2012 - It has taken 3 years for Laurel Mountain Midstream Operating to get approval to operate its dew point control facility in Mt. Pleasant Township even though the facility has been up and running since that time. "We've lost the right to enjoy our property due to all the noise and odors," said Rebecca Skirpan, who lives about one-third of a mile away from the facility.

4-30-12 Press Release: In Fracking Secrecy Court Case, Newspapers Get Support From Doctors, Scientists, Advocates

Amicus Brief (PDF offsite)

Firm plans to clean Jan. methanol spill

Newspaper asks judge to unseal Hallowich settlement

Hallowich settlement in court
National Geographic story

Ron Gulla's story
Acrylonitrile blog

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