By August 4, 2013 2 Comments Read More →

Two Pennsylvania Children Banned from Discussing Fracking Settlement for Their Entire Lives

frackingThe first rule of fracking is: don’t talk about fracking.

The second rule of fracking is: DON’T TALK ABOUT FRACKING… At least when it comes to fracking settlements.

All Chuck Palahniuk references aside – the author of Fight Club, in case that needs to be stated anymore these days – this breaking story proves once again that the controversial practice of fracking sounds less like a good idea the more it’s discussed. In fact two children from Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania have just been legally barred from discussing fracking for the rest of their lives.

The gag order stems from the Hallowich family’s $750,000 settlement with the driller Range Resources in August 2011. The Hallowiches had become severely ill from the air and water contaminated by the shale-gas drilling site nearby and quickly agreed to the extreme terms of the settlement to move away as soon as possible. But not only were parents Stephanie and Chris legally barred from discussing the case or fracking in general, so were their 7- and 10-year-old children — which lawyers call an unprecedented extension for a nondisclosure agreement.

The 7- and 10-year-old children of a Pennsylvania couple that reached a settlement following a lawsuit involving health issues brought on by fracking have been barred from discussing details of the case for the rest of their lives.Though a gag order is not unusual in itself when large corporations reach a settlement with plaintiffs in court, the August 2011 case of a family that went to court with Range Resources Corporation, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream, and Markwest Energy due to the environmental and health impact caused by gas fracking operations has raised eyebrows for its inclusion of the couple’s young children.

The Pennsylvania family reached a $750,000 settlement with the gas companies, and have used the award to relocate. In exchange, however, Chris and Stephanie Hallowich agreed that no member of their family could comment on the case “in any fashion whatsoever.”

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Details of the case only emerged recently when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette managed to get court transcripts released. The paper’s reporters were originally barred from attending the settlement hearing, and had to wait until a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a lower court had erred in blocking the unsealing of the records.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

According to the transcript [of the settlement hearing], the Hallowichs’ attorney, Peter Villari, said that in 30 years of practicing law he never had seen a nondisclosure agreement that included minor children.

And, although he advised the Hallowichs to accept the settlement, he questioned if the children’s First Amendment rights could be restricted by such an agreement.

According to Villari, the settlement wouldn’t have gone forward unless the couple also signed a document stating their health was not affected by drilling operations. So all the record will show, as a spokesperson for Range Resources put it, is that “clearly the Hallowichs were not in an ideal situation in terms of their lifestyle. They had an unusual amount of activity around them. We didn’t want them in that situation.” Man, if you could get $750,000 just for having an “unusual amount of activity” near your home — say, the construction of some microapartments — development-related NIMBYism would cease to exist.

For people whose property values, health, and quality of life have suffered thanks to fracking, settlements like these can be a bitter pill to swallow. In exchange for much-needed compensation for damages, they’re barred from speaking up about their experiences, which slows the spread of awareness about fracking’s potential risks and helps the cycle of exploitation continue. ClimateProgress explains:

The Hallowich family’s gag order is only the most extreme example of a tactic that critics say effectively silences anyone hurt by fracking. It’s a choice between receiving compensation for damage done to one’s health and property, or publicizing the abuses that caused the harm. Virtually no one can forgo compensation, so their stories go untold.

Bruce Baizel, Energy Program Director at Earthworks, an environmental group focusing on mineral and energy development, said in a phone interview that the companies’ motives are clear. “The refrain in the industry is, this is a safe process. There’s no record of contamination. That whole claim would be undermined if these things were public.” There have been attempts to measure the number of settlements with non-disclosure agreements, Baizel said, but to no avail. “They don’t have to be registered, they don’t have to be filed. It’s kind of a black hole.” …

Sharon Wilson, an organizer with Earthworks, said … “These gag orders are the reason [drillers] can give testimony to Congress and say there are no documented cases of contamination. And then elected officials can repeat that.” She makes it clear she doesn’t blame the families who take the settlements. “They do what they have to do to protect themselves and their children.”

The Range Resources spokesperson said the company doesn’t believe this settlement should apply to the children. But according to the hearing transcript, Range Resources’ attorney asserted not only that the order does indeed apply to the younger Hallowichs, but that the company “would certainly enforce it.”

If Range Resources ever gets its official position straight, the Hallowich kids could be released from the gag order. Until then, they better watch what they say on the playground.

 

Posted in: Fracking

2 Comments on "Two Pennsylvania Children Banned from Discussing Fracking Settlement for Their Entire Lives"

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  1. icetraigh says:

    Well of course that can’t stand. Any contract made with a legally-defined child is non-binding. That’s why you don’t see 12 year olds getting credit cards and parents of celebrity kids spending all the money and leaving the kid broke. The contract is non-binding. They could talk about it tomorrow and not be in any legal trouble.

  2. rrboxall@hotmail.com says:

    One might think Freedom of speech should come into play here. As well, you are talking about children and the legality of what they can and cannot do for their entire life. I guess what I’m really saying is BULLSHIT on this ruling.

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