Children banned from talking about fracking

Fracking wells photo
CC BY 2.0 Jeremy Buckingham

From burning tap water to earthquakes caused by fracking, there's plenty of reasons for communities living near new oil and gas exploration to be a little nervous about the potential for things to go wrong.

That's probably why the industry is so image conscious.

It's this concern about public perception which apparently lead Range Resources Ltd, a leading oil and gas driller, to seek a lifetime gag order on two children—aged 10 and 7 at the time—preventing them from talking about fracking in general, the Marcellus Shale, or the specific impact that exploration may have had on their family farm.

As The Guardian reports, this gag order was part of a $750,000 settlement between the children's parents, Chris and Stephanie Hallowich and Range Resources. The Hallowich's had accused Range Resources of destroying the family's 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Here's more from The Guardian, quoting from court transcripts which reveal the parent's concern about the gag order and its potential impact on their children's rights:

"The children's father, Chris Hallowich, went on to tell the court it might be difficult to ensure the children's absolute silence on fracking – given that their ages and that the family lives in the middle of a shale gas boom.

"They're going to be among other children that are children of people within this industry and they're going to be around it every day of their life, that if they in turn say one of the illegal words when they're outside of our guardianship we're going to have difficulty controlling that,""

Some will no doubt accuse the parents of signing away their children's right to free speech, but if we take the family's claims that their property had been destroyed at face value, then one can only imagine the kind of economic pressure they would be under to find a new, safer home for their children.

Either way, the gag order has not done the fracking industry any favors in the end.

The Pittsburgh Gazette first broke news of the unusual terms of this legal settlement, following an open records request, and the resulting legal debate has been raising eyebrows in media, campaign and legal circles alike.

At the time of the settlement, an attorney representing Range Resources stated that the gag order did apply to the whole family and they would seek to enforce it. However, after news of the gag order on the Hallowich children went public, the Pittsburgh Gazette reports that Matt Pitzarella, a Range Resources spokesman, stated that the company did not, after all, believe it applied to the children and that the views of their attorney were not something the company agreed with.

Children banned from talking about fracking
Gag orders are nothing new in settlements between land owners and oil and gas companies. Applying them to 7 year old children, however, is.

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