Anti-Fracking Gag Order Imposed on 7-Year-Old
When Chris and Stephanie Hallowich of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement as part of their hydraulic fracturing settlement, they knew that they had to keep quiet about the deal for the rest of their lives.
But the surprising aspect of the 2011 settlement is that the gag order also applies to the Hallowich’s two children, who were then only 7 and 10 years old.
Legal scholars and attorneys say the Hallowich agreement, which resulted in them receiving $750,000 from defendants Range Resources, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and MarkWest Energy, may be the first of its kind to prevent offspring from ever saying anything about the deal.
The children are forbidden to utter certain “illegal words”—forever.
In court, James Swett, representing Range Resources, made it clear that the gag order applied to the whole family, not just the parents, and that his client intended to enforce the gag order. Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky, although clearly startled by the terms of the agreement, told the Hallowiches, “As it relates to your children, should they violate the terms and conditions, that would be up to the defendants to enforce the provisions in whatever fashion and before whatever court that it might be appropriate.”
Jessie Allen, an assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh who teaches civil procedure, legal ethics and civil rights, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that applying the non-disclosure agreement to kids was “strange” and “over the top.”
The Hallowichs filed a lawsuit against the three companies claiming that the Marcellus Shale gas development adjacent to their farm damaged their property value and their health, including that of their 7-year-old daughter, Alie, and their 10-year-old son, Nate.
They said the gas drilling released air and water contaminants that polluted their water supply and caused them to experience burning eyes, sore throats, headaches and earaches.
As for former Judge Pozonsky, in May the Pennsylvania State Police charged him with stealing cocaine that was being held as evidence.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
Pittsburgh-Area Shale Settlement 'Gag' Questioned (by Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Settlement (see pages 11-14)
Personal Account from the Marcellus Shale (by Stephanie Hallowich, Marcellus-Shale.us)
Doctor Challenges Fracking “Trade Secrets” Medical Gag Rule (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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