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Doctors Press Court to Release Records in Gas Fracking Case

April 30, 2012

A Pennsylvania court should disclose the legal settlement between a family that claimed natural-gas drilling threatened its health and several gas producers, a group of physicians and researchers said.

Sealing the court records contributes to a veil of secrecy that makes it impossible for doctors to assess the potential health risks of drilling, Jerome Paulson, medical director at the Washington-based Child Health Advocacy Institute, said today on a conference call. The institute and other physicians’ groups joined an appeal of a January order by Judge Paul Pozonsky in the Court of Common Pleas for Washington County that sealed the documents.

The case involves a family that sued Range Resources Corp. (RRC:US) and other companies after parents and children began suffering health symptoms they blamed on hydraulic fracturing for gas on their property, according to a brief filed by the environment group Earthjustice on behalf of the physicians. Last year the parties reached a confidential settlement.

“We know that there are many chemicals used in the process of unconventional gas extraction,” Paulson said on the call with reporters. “We do not know all of the chemicals that are intentionally used. Without this data and data about releases of chemicals to air and water, physicians and public health officials are in an untenable position when trying to help individuals who are ill.”

Headaches, Nosebleeds

In fracturing or fracking, millions of gallons of chemically treated water are forced underground to break up rock and free trapped gas. Advances in the technology have made it possible to extract gas in places such as Pennsylvania where drilling takes place close to homes.

Stephanie and Chris Hallowich, who filed the lawsuit, said they and their children suffered headaches, nosebleeds, burning eyes, and sore throats as a result of drilling on their property. Drillers in Pennsylvania are tapping into the Marcellus Shale, a formation that stretches from New York to Tennessee.

State laws for disclosing chemicals used in fracking let companies withhold information considered to be a trade secret. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this month issued rules that require drillers to lower emissions at the well.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pennsylvania, challenged the judge’s ruling sealing records in the case. A brief in support of the newspapers was filed on behalf of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility, and other groups, according to the groups.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at

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