Two Children Banned for Life From Talking About Fracking

As part of a 2011 settlement (pdf) between a Pennsylvania family and three oil and gas companies involved in drilling in the Marcellus Shale, Chris and Stephanie Hallowich have been prohibited from talking about the case or about gas drilling or fracking — and so have their two children, who were aged 7 and 10 at the time of the lawsuit.

Yes, a lifelong ban on talking about fracking has been placed on two minor children.

“I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it,” James Swetz, the attorney representing one of the companies, Range Resources, is quoted as saying at an August 2011 settlement hearing that reporters were not allowed to attend and during which court records were sealed.

The court transcripts have now been released, after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette filed an Open Records request. The 16-page transcript shows that the prohibition against the children speaking was “discussed at length.”

Legal experts emphasize that the gag order on children is “rare.” “It’s right to react to this as strange and the lawyers involved reflect that when they say they’ve never seen that. My reaction is it’s kind of over the top,” says Jessie Allen, professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Hallowichs had accused Range Resources, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and MarkWest Energy of not only destroying their 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, but also of seriously endangering their children’s health. Adjacent to their property were four gas wells, gas compressor stations and a waste water pond; these, according to the family, contaminated their water supply and left them with burning eyes, sore throats and headaches.

The gag order on the whole family was a condition of the settlement. The Hallowichs said they agreed to it because they wanted to move to a new home for the sake of their children’s health and safety.

As their attorney, Peter Villari, said according to the court transcript, “in 30 years of practicing law, he had never known a nondisclosure agreement to include minor children.” As another University of Pittsburgh law school professor, Harry Flechtner, comments, as children, the Hallowich’s son and daughter “can’t be bound by such an agreement, a contract, but the wild card is the court approval of the agreement.”

Villari has also questioned whether the children’s First Amendment rights are being affected, if not violated, by such a settlement. The judge in the case, Paul Pozonsky (who has since retired) said that this was ”a law school question, I guess.”

The “fracking gag” placed on the children is anything but an academic question. Their lives, and those of the entire Hallowich family, have been irredeemably affected by the oil and gas companies’ industrial activities. The companies might dispute the influence of fracking and other operations on their health, but the family having to move from their property was certainly a disruption in their lives.

A spokeman for Range Resources, Matt Pitzarella, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Swetz’s comments are “not something we agree with” and that “we don’t believe the [Hallowich] settlement applies to children.” As Villari says, “I’d appreciate it if they’d put that in writing.”

It goes without saying that the three oil and gas companies must clarify their position about the gag order. Most of all, the two Hallowish children must be released from it. By including the gag order for the family, the companies have given them a whole lot more to talk about.



Photo from Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Past Member
Past Member 4 years ago

This is certainly a first amendment infringement on the children. Regardless of their benefit of the law suit, they as individuals did not file this suit and unless they had legal representation during this proceeding they should sue the frack out of the gas/oil company.

Melysa Hamilton
Melysa Hamilton4 years ago

And what the hell do they think they can legally do to a 7 year old child if they do talk about the case?

So will the company sue the parents for the compensation money back for failing to prevent a 7 year old kid from talking about something that has had a huge disruptive effect on their life and health?

Illegal and unenforceable, stupid waste of time and money. Only lawyers gain from this case.

Alyssa Huebner
Alyssa Huebner4 years ago

You can't ban a child from doing something for life! It's unconstitutional! Banning children from discussing something is ludicrous to begin with. But this topic will probably come up academically; are they supposed to fail because they can't talk about it?

From a purely legal standpoint, this order should expire when the children become legal adults, since it wasn't them who signed the gorram contract. Then again, from a purely legal standpoint, this order sounds pretty illegal.

Manuela C.
Manuela C4 years ago


Merthyr Stevens
Merthyr Stevens4 years ago

WHAT THE FRACK????? Just goes to show how much these companies have got to hide!!!!

holly masih
.4 years ago

can you say respect the constitution?can you say file lawsuits for violations of constitutional rights?this blatantly violates freedom of speech.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance4 years ago

I can understand the condition to "not discuss the specifics of the settlement" --- that is not that uncommon. But to be prevented from discussing fracking, even in the most general terms, is wrong headed. It would appear that the 1st amendment has been violated. I would also argue that the Hallowich family had be coerced.

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago

despite the people yelling about mom and dad gave up the rights, it's still wrong.