The First Rule of Frack Club: We Don't Talk About Fracking

Fracking Gag Order

Back in August of 2011, the Hallowich family filed suit against the Range Resources Corporation, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream, and Markwest Energy over to the harmful environmental and negative health impact caused to their land and family by gas fracking operations. The case settled with about $750,000 ending up in the hands of the Hallowich family to re-locate, but here’s the weird part: The 7- and 10-year-old Hallowich children have been barred from discussing details of the case for the rest of their lives.

Court records, which should have included details of the settlement but did not, paint a confusing picture for Chris and Stephanie Hallowich as they tried to make sense of the significance of their gag order.

“We know we’re signing for silence forever, but how is this taking away our children’s rights being minors?” Stephanie Hallowich asked the judge.

“I mean, my daughter is turning 7 today, my son is 10.”

According to the transcripts, Judge Polonsky, who oversaw the case, was unable to clarify. The family’s attorney, Peter Villari, questioned whether the order would be enforceable.

“I, frankly, your Honor, as an attorney, to be honest with you, I don’t know if that’s possible that you can give up the First Amendment rights of a child,” stated Villari.

While “gag-orders” on court settlements are common for a given period of time, this life-long ban against discussing fracking put on the children is a new twist for the oil and gas companies … then, again, it might not be a new twist after all! According to Bruce Baizel, Energy Program Director at Earthworks, which focuses on mineral and energy development, the motives behind restrictive gag orders post-settlements is to conceal any evidence or official record of adverse environmental impact from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. “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,” Baizel told ClimateProgress.

Prior to the settlement the Hallowichs said that nearby gas drilling had caused “burning eyes, sore throats, headaches and earaches, and contaminated their water supply.” After the settlement, however, spokesmen for the Range Resources company stated that “the family had never produced evidence of any health impacts,” and that the Hallowichs’ primary motive for moving was instead due to “an unusual amount of activity around them.”

Now, I’m no “legal eagle”, but I have to assume there is a lot more to Range Resources’ decision to pony up $750,000 to the Hallowich family than “it was noisy, and we felt bad for them”. Maybe they meant “seismic activity” and the Hallowichs’ land was about to tumble into a thousand-foot sinkhole? Whatever the reason, here’s hoping the Hallowich kids challenge the legality of their parents’s literally signing away their rights in exchange for dirty gas and oil money (and not a lot of that, even!), and “come clean” so that whatever was happening to them doesn’t happen to other kids. Also, you know, that everyone involved in the fracking industry loses their jobs. That would be great, too.


Source | Photos: RT.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.