In September, 13 families from tiny Lenox Township in northeastern Pennsylvania sued Southwestern Energy Company. The plaintiffs, whose homes sit atop a slice of the 95,000-square-mile bedrock expanse known as the Marcellus Shale, allege that in drilling for natural gas, Houston-based Southwestern contaminated the local water supply with chemicals that caused them to suffer neurological disorders and gastrointestinal illnesses. It isn’t the first lawsuit to label Marcellus drilling a health hazard. And if the recent rush by energy companies angling for access to the natural gas lodestone keeps up, it’s unlikely to be the last.

While the shale grab has been on in earnest since 2008, the blizzard of big deals lately has been dizzying. “These shale transactions, in terms of the sheer enormity of the dollars involved, are really quite phenomenal,” says James Rice, who heads Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s energy and global transactions practice. “There’s been an explosion of work from natural gas.”

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