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.
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.”