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Goldenberg writes: "Two young children in Pennsylvania were banned from talking about fracking for the rest of their lives under a gag order imposed under a settlement reached by their parents with a leading oil and gas company."

Children protesting fracking. (photo: Flickr)
Children protesting fracking. (photo: Flickr)


Children Given Lifelong Ban on Talking About Fracking

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian UK

20 August 15

 

Two Pennsylvanian children will live their lives under a gag order imposed under a $750,000 settlement.

wo young children in Pennsylvania were banned from talking about fracking for the rest of their lives under a gag order imposed under a settlement reached by their parents with a leading oil and gas company.

The sweeping gag order was imposed under a $750,000 settlement between the Hallowich family and Range Resources Corp, a leading oil and gas driller. It provoked outrage on Monday among environmental campaigners and free speech advocates.

The settlement, reached in 2011 but unsealed only last week, barred the Hallowichs' son and daughter, who were then aged 10 and seven, from ever discussing fracking or the Marcellus Shale, a leading producer in America's shale gas boom.

The Hallowich family had earlier accused oil and gas companies of destroying their 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania and putting their children's health in danger. Their property was adjacent to major industrial operations: four gas wells, gas compressor stations, and a waste water pond, which the Hallowich family said contaminated their water supply and caused burning eyes, sore throats and headaches.

Gag orders – on adults – are typical in settlements reached between oil and gas operators and residents in the heart of shale gas boom in Pennsylvania. But the company lawyer's insistence on extending the lifetime gag order to the Hallowichs' children gave even the judge pause, according to the court documents.

The family gag order was a condition of the settlement. The couple told the court they agreed because they wanted to move to a new home away from the gas fields, and to raise their children in a safer environment. "We need to get the children out of there for their health and safety," the children's mother, Stephanie Hallowich, told the court.

She was still troubled by the gag order, however. "My concern is that they're minors. I'm not quite sure I fully understand. We know we're signing for silence for ever but how is this taking away our children's rights being minors now? I mean my daughter is turning seven today, my son is 10."

The children's father, Chris Hallowich, went on to tell the court it might be difficult to ensure the children's absolute silence on fracking – given that their ages and that the family lives in the middle of a shale gas boom.

"They're going to be among other children that are children of people within this industry and they're going to be around it every day of their life, that if they in turn say one of the illegal words when they're outside of our guardianship we're going to have difficulty controlling that," he said. "We can tell them, they can not say this, they can not say that, but if on the playground....."

The court transcripts were released in response to an open records request by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, which first reported on the children's lifetime gag order. The newspaper has been fighting for the release of all documents in the Hallowich settlement.

Campaigners say the secrecy has helped the industry resist more stringent environmental and health controls – by burying evidence of water contamination and health problems associated with natural gas operations. The Hallowichs' lawyer, Peter Villari, told the court he had never seen a gag order imposed on children in his 30 years of practicing law, according to the released transcript.

During the proceedings, the attorney representing Range Resources, James Swetz, reaffirmed the company sought the gag order on the children. "I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it," he told the court.

Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and MarkWest Energy were also defendants in the case.

However, once that gag order came to light, two years after the August 2011 proceedings, the company told reporters it did not agree with Swetz's comments. "We don't believe the settlement applies to children," a Range Resources spokesman told the Gazette. He went on to tell the paper that there was no evidence that the Hallowich family was affected by exposure to gas development.

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+68 # jimmyjames 2015-08-20 09:03
Good grief! A lifetime gag order on children? Are you kidding me? This goes beyond the pale....I cannot believe the judge would agree to this order, regardless of the settlement the parents made with the fracking company.
 
 
+46 # Diane_Wilkinson_Trefethen_aka_tref 2015-08-20 09:17
The gag order on those kids is so problematic that its chances of standing up in court are virtually nil.

This story is almost FauxNews like. It stirs up an emotional response in the reader and then thinking rationally goes right out the window.
 
 
+7 # ericlipps 2015-08-21 19:00
I agree that the gag order has little chance of standing up in court. I don't see how it can even be enforced. What, are these children's conversations, letters and emails going to be monitored for the rest of their lives?
 
 
+28 # tedrey 2015-08-20 09:18
Would the children be permitted to mention fracking if asked in a court under oath? For that matter, would the parents?
 
 
+61 # NAVYVET 2015-08-20 09:49
Gag orders should be outlawed as unconstitutiona l.
 
 
+37 # LeeBlack 2015-08-20 10:04
NavyVet, I would think the 1st Amendment does outlaw 'gag' orders. I can see the validity of a gag order before a trial but can think of no other legitimate use.
 
 
+28 # jpmarat 2015-08-20 10:04
We sacrifice our children, our sacred Freedom of Expression, our protection of the sacred rights of our posterity for needless fracking, superfluous profits, so that GlobalCorps can sell off America's resources overseas. Hillary is NOT the answer.
 
 
+37 # Citizen Mike 2015-08-20 10:11
I suspect this goes against public policy and the first Amendment and cannot be legally sustained. As minors, these children cannot be parties to any legal agreement or settlement to which their parents agreed.
 
 
+17 # logical1 2015-08-20 10:29
Just saying "I am not allowed to talk about fracking" would let people know there is a problem with it.
If pressed say "we made a settlement with the oil and gas companies, but you can talk about it."
 
 
+3 # RobertMStahl 2015-08-20 10:38
a gaggle of gag
 
 
+17 # Billy Bob 2015-08-20 11:11
Something as immoral as this cannot be enforced in good faith.
 
 
+36 # geraldom 2015-08-20 11:44
This is plainly illegal and unenforceable, especially since these are children who cannot legally be held to this restriction and who have no idea or understanding of what their parents have signed. Any judge in their right mind should have thrown this agreement out of court.

Young children, by law, are not allowed to sign contracts for good reason, because they are in no position to understand what they are signing, and since these particular children could not have signed this agreement, they cannot be held to this gag order even if their parents are.
 
 
+16 # jussayin 2015-08-20 13:11
It would seem that Range Resources' intent of the gag order was to hide wrong-doing on their part, possibly to escape or delay further consequences. Can a gag order be imposed to evade the laws which serve to protect the public? I don't see how that is possible.
 
 
+22 # Merlin 2015-08-20 12:25
From the article:
“…the attorney representing Range Resources, James Swetz, reaffirmed the company sought the gag order on the children. "I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it," he told the court.
Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and MarkWest Energy were also defendants in the case.
However, once that gag order came to light, two years after the August 2011 proceedings, the company told reporters it did not agree with Swetz's comments. "We don't believe the settlement applies to children,"

James Swetz just “guesses?” He is the company attorney! Then the company (flip flops 2 years later upon disclosure) disagrees with Swetz’ guess??? What a joke! Massive CYA in action! Really bizarre!

Gaging people from reporting the truth (whistleblowers ), government secrecy, reporter suppression, media control, selective leaking by the government, buying people’s silence through legal decisions, Jeb wants encryption ended and a return to waterboarding… the tentacles of greed, corruption and the accumulation of power are everywhere!

If The People ever put 2+2 together, there will be hell to pay!
 
 
+15 # davidh7426 2015-08-20 12:32
Looks like someone at the company is trying to find a way out of the settlement. A child speaks about fracking, then the company may be able to claim the money back...

It's a cheap trick, cheap and nasty, but not surprising. They hold the family to ransom, by saying "We'll give you the settlement, but you have to follow these rules." and then adding rules and conditions, which are almost impossible not to break.
 
 
+11 # angelfish 2015-08-20 15:42
So. Now our Courts are interceding and infringing on Americans' Constitutional RIGHT to Free Speech? Sweet Jesu, I have lived too long! This is NOT the America I was born into. My greatest fear is that it will never return.
 
 
-6 # fletch1165 2015-08-20 18:06
It will not so long as the neocons control the Democratic party. They elected Obama in the first place. Twice. Its all a conspiracy. Our government is a bunch of trolls now serving corporate interest and foreign powers ONLY. Until Americans rise up and kill them all we will have degeneration only. Its sad but true. They will never allow Democracy without a Civil War.
 
 
+14 # Doc Mary 2015-08-20 16:27
I believe gag orders are a terrible abuse of the legal system. The insurance industry regularly uses them when a patient appears to be winning a case and is willing to settle out of court. It makes grassroots activism really difficult.
 
 
+9 # fletch1165 2015-08-20 18:03
As soon as they turn 18 they can do whatever they want. $750k only buys so much even in a corrupt society.
 
 
0 # C A Lawrence 2015-08-20 21:36
This news is almost 2 years old!
http://www.businessinsider.com/gag-order-bars-two-us-children-from-talking-about-fracking-2013-8
 
 
+4 # Robbee 2015-08-20 21:39
re : # geraldom 2015-08-20 11:44 ... Any judge in their right mind should have thrown this agreement out of court.

- these are cro-magnons! they are not you, nor like you, they are not me, nor like me, they are scarcely human - try not to confuse zombies with homo sapiens, please!

re : - # fletch1165 2015-08-20 18:06
... the neocons control the Democratic party. They elected Obama in the first place. Twice. Its all a conspiracy.

- puhleese! get a grip! if dems were zombies, they would join the zomblican party and fight, to the last death, for their puppet masters! the billionaires!

go bernie!
 
 
+6 # REDPILLED 2015-08-21 17:28
Corporations think they are god, not merely persons, as the treasonous Supreme Court 5 have ruled.

I look forward to all the lawsuits against these fracking corporations in the future for their irresponsible harm to people's health and to the environment.
 
 
+4 # jcdav 2015-08-22 06:26
Yeah, and i look forward to war crime trials for W, Chaney & yes, BO. I doubt very much justice will prevail.
 
 
+1 # littlebird 2015-08-23 15:06
Can this gag order be repealed? I wonder what happens when the kids get into high school and have to write a paper on the dangers of fracking or perhaps cannot engage in a class discussion on it. Gag orders are a cover up measure. It screams "guilty" to the party wanting the cover up. I think cover up orders should be banned in the case of an employee being bound not to say anything against his company. It is a ban on free speech and on whistle blowing for wrong deeds. A judge needs to rescind the gag order against the young children. It is too much to expect from them and is bound to be broken, just as secrets will be told by children, even in innocent ways. What happens to the children or family if they "tell"? Do they lose their right to the money? This order is wrong in so many ways. Companies need to be outed for their corruption and deceit , just as governments need to be held accountable.
 
 
0 # boredlion 2015-08-23 22:12
You're right, Littlebird. This court order will never stand up in a proper court which takes into account the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the right to freedom of speech. There will, I predict, be numerous appeals and challenges to this ruling. It does not end here.

it's just too bad that that the children will be now held at the point of the searing spear of silence, until this travesty is resolved. keep a good thought.
 

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