By Suzanne Goldenberg | The Guardian
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 Americas 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 childrens 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 lawyers 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 childrens mother, Stephanie Hallowich, told the court.
She was still troubled by the gag order, however. "My concern is that theyre minors. Im not quite sure I fully understand. We know were signing for silence for ever but how is this taking away our childrens rights being minors now? I mean my daughter is turning seven today, my son is 10."
The childrens father, Chris Hallowich, went on to tell the court it might be difficult to ensure the childrens absolute silence on fracking given that their ages and that the family lives in the middle of a shale gas boom.
"Theyre going to be among other children that are children of people within this industry and theyre going to be around it every day of their life, that if they in turn say one of the illegal words when theyre outside of our guardianship were 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 childrens 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.
Read the full article at: theguardian.com
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