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Fracking Industry Sought Lifetime Gag Order on Kids

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barray (rebeccabarray.com).
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barray / rebeccabarray.com

According to just-released transcripts in a fracking industry secrecy case, the lawyer for the gas company said the company intended to enforce a lifetime gag order on a 7- and 10-year-old, preventing them from ever talking about Marcellus Shale or fracking.

Independent legal experts interviewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are shaking their heads, saying they’ve never seen a gag order like this apply to children.

The lawyer’s statement was revealed in previously sealed court transcripts, released yesterday after a lawsuit brought by the Post-Gazette. Earthjustice submitted an amicus brief in the case on behalf of doctors, scientists and researchers.

In our court challenges against the fracking industry, we’ve seen a repeated pattern of secrecy. But forcing children to keep quiet represents a new low.

A spokesperson for the company is frantically backpedaling, but so far the company has put nothing in writing releasing the children from this gag order.

Seems that age-old “sticks and stones” retort to schoolyard teasing just isn’t enough for the fracking industry. Apparently, they’d rather threaten any pint-sized would-be critics with legal action.

Here’s some background on the case:

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Observer-Reporter sued to overturn a court order sealing the record in a case in which Stephanie and Chris Hallowich of Pennsylvania sued several gas companies over health impacts related to air and water pollution from nearby natural gas development operations. The companies fought to keep the records out of the public eye.

After moving to a farm in Mount Pleasant, PA, the family had found themselves surrounded by the expanding natural gas industry as companies built wells on their property and gas processing facilities nearby. The health of the parents and children quickly deteriorated and they began suffering unexplained headaches, nosebleeds, burning eyes and sore throats.

They tried unsuccessfully to get state regulators and nearby companies to address the problem. When that didn't work, the family sued, eventually settling with the companies and abandoning their home. As a condition of the settlement, the companies insisted that the Hallowiches sign a non-disclosure agreement, agreeing never to talk about their case or fracking again.

These types of non-disclosure agreements have proven to be the norm in such lawsuits against the gas industry, as this chart of related cases in Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia demonstrates. Bloomberg has also reported extensively on this industry gag order trend in investigative print and television pieces.

Prior to the agreement, the Hallowiches had been outspoken critics of gas industry abuses. But like so many others bound by industry-mandated non-disclosure agreements, the family has not been able to speak out about the case since the court settlement.

These nondisclosure agreements are just one example of a wide-ranging pattern of industry secrecy. Industry has lobbied for and won exemptions from portions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, and other federal laws with important right-to-know requirements. In Wyoming, the gas industry has fought against a state law requiring that it disclose the identities of chemicals used in fracking, submitting claims to keep secret more than a hundred chemicals. In Pennsylvania, industry lobbied for Act 13, which among other things seeks to limit information doctors can share about health problems linked to gas development activities.

Tags:  fracking, gas

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