Friday, August 02, 2013

‘Frack Gag’ Bans Children From Talking About Fracking, Forever

By Andrew Breiner on August 2, 2013

When drilling company Range Resources offered the Hallowich family a $750,000 settlement to relocate from their fracking-polluted home in Washington County, Pennsylvania, it came with a common restriction. Chris and Stephanie Hallowich would be forbidden from ever speaking about fracking or the Marcellus Shale. But one element of the gag order was all new. The Hallowichs’ two young children, ages 7 and 10, would be subject to the same restrictions, banned from speaking about their family’s experience for the rest of their lives.

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.”


It’s not the only time gas exploration companies have gone to great lengths to keep the health problems caused by fracking under wraps. A 2012 Pennsylvania law requires companies to tell doctors the chemical contents of fracking fluids, so long as doctors don’t reveal that information, even to patients they are treating for fracking-related illness.


Wary of the bad press for putting a lifetime gag order on two minors, Pizzarella told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “we don’t believe the [Hallowich] settlement applies to children.” This, despite ready availability of the settlement transcript, in which the company’s lawyer states “I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it.”

Vallari, the Hallowichs’ attorney, doesn’t buy Pizzarella’s retraction via press. “Their lawyers insisted on that language, and they said they wanted it enforced,” he said when reached by phone. “Until they write me a letter or sign a stipulation saying [it doesn't apply to the children], I don’t believe it.” Pizzarella did not respond to requests for interview.

Wilson, the organizer, said that even beyond making political action more difficult, gag orders are causing people direct harm. “When you get a settlement and get gagged, you can’t warn your neighbors,” she said. “Then your neighbors drink the very same water, and have health issues that are probably permanent.”

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