Energy. Environment. Economy.

Lifelong Gag Order Imposed on Two Kids in Fracking Case

Stephanie Hallowich with her two children. A court order forbids the children from speaking about fracking or Marcellus Shale for the rest of their lives.

Mark Schmerling / Courtesy of Protecting Our Waters

Stephanie Hallowich with her two children. A court order forbids the children from speaking about fracking or Marcellus Shale for the rest of their lives.

Two young children are forbidden from speaking about Marcellus Shale or fracking for the rest of their lives. The court action stems from a settlement in a high-profile Marcellus Shale lawsuit in western Pennsylvania.

The two children were 7 and 10 years old at the time the Hallowich family settled a nuisance case against driller Range Resources in August 2011. The parents, Chris and Stephanie, had been outspoken critics of fracking, saying the family became sick from the gas drilling activity surrounding their Washington County home.

According to court testimony released Wednesday, the parents were desperate to move and reluctantly agreed to a gag order that not only prevents them from speaking of Marcellus Shale and fracking, but also extends to their children.

Stephanie Hallowich told Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Pozonsky that she agreed to the gag order in order to get enough funds to move out of the house. But she said she didn’t fully understand the lifelong gag order on her children.

“We know we’re signing for silence forever, but how is this taking away our children’s rights being minors?” she asked the judge. “I mean, my daughter is turning 7 today, my son is 10.”

Judge Polonsky didn’t have an answer for her. And the family’s attorney, Peter Villari, questioned whether the order would be enforceable.

“I, frankly, your Honor, as an attorney, to be honest with you, I don’t know if that’s possible that you can give up the First Amendment rights of a child.”

Villari told StateImpact that it’s the first time he’s seen this in his 35 years of practicing law.

“That someone would insist on confidentiality of a minor child,” he said, “or that it would be discussed within the context of a proposed settlement was unusual. I have not encountered it before and I have yet to encounter it again.”

Villari says his own research has turned up no case law related to gag orders placed on children.

At the hearing, Villari questioned his own clients vigorously in order to establish they understood the bizarre nature of the confidentiality agreement.

Range Resources attorney James Swetz told the judge that when it came to the settlement agreement, the family was defined as the “whole family,” referring to the questions by the parents, the judge, and the parents’ lawyer as “ancillary.”

“That’s what we’ve agreed to,” Swetz told the court. “Putting aside all these other issues and sort of ancillary topics, that’s what the settlement says, and that’s what we’ve agreed to at this point.”

Range Resources seems to now be distancing itself from its lawyer’s remarks, insisting the gag order applies only to the parents.

“Those comments are not accurate from our former outside counsel and are not reflective of our interpretation of the settlement,” wrote spokesman Matt Pittzarella in an email to StateImpact. The seven and ten year olds are free to discuss whatever they wish now and when they are of age.”

The Hallowich case against Range Resources, MarkWest Energy and Williams Gas settled for $750,000. The Hallowichs have since moved. Their attorney says their health has improved significantly.


  • medijohn7

    Welcome to Communist America ! If fracing had a detrimental effect on the internet the lemmings would RIOT!

    • xboxershorts

      I believe the word you’re looking for is actually fascist, not communist. This is definitely one of those situations where corporate interests and government interests were in partnership and superseded the interests of the individual citizen.

      • medijohn7

        Pure sarcasm !

        • Snarky Daemon O’Mockery

          Hail Eris!

          Dude. Sarcasm? Not your thing.

          There are days where America feels like one giant, relentlessly optimistic, hopelessly delusional self-help cult.

          • medij

            And wit is not yours,lol

      • hooker

        idiot the stupid idiot sold her kids rights when the greed idiot took 750k, but na it’s every one else’s fault this is why this state is blue too many dumbasses

        • xboxershorts

          No, you have it backwards. Their farm became unlivable, and this was the ONLY way they would get a settlement and be able to live somewhere (anywhere) else. Range Resources had to buy their farm, (at firesale prices) but insisted, with the blessings of the state, that the family could not discuss the reasons for Range having to buy their farm. This land is unusable now, would you buy it? Were it not for the publicity of this totally fascist collusion between the state and Range Resources, you’d never know that their farm was rendered unusable and the water, likely gone bad (very bad),

          This gag order is why the industry gets to claim they have never recorded an incident of water gone bad due to their practices.

          Tell me, Mr Smarty Pants…would you buy this farm?

          • hooker

            Yes I would, that simple and mr. dumby pants I just read through everything I could on this 1 they had no evidence to open it the newspapers tried I’m sure the family had no evidence either they were long into anti fracking mostly the wife, and the dumb pictures they show of a burning mud puddle is a joke a con used by idiot lefties all the time and it works to scare people, it’s called methane gas and if you put a water well in you tap a meth pocket and meth has always caused that very long time and when they signed the settlement they knew exactly what they were signing I’m not scared to say this is a con they needed money they got money and now they are gone, it was just a con now if laws were changed to insure that the loser pays I bet Range, instead of giving these cons money would have fought and won the case, and these cons,HAllwich, would be paying then people like you would have to take up donations for them, all it takes is a little time to find a good snake lawyer and you might be able to cash in to

          • xboxershorts

            If what you project here were accurate, I would think that Range Resources would be firing their entire legal staff.

          • hooker

            Ehh, why bother, if the laws were changed ,like they should be ,to cut down on con lawsuits and make losers pay this would have never happened not a chance,but seeing how all you need do is look around find a good snake lawyer and sue anyone you want for anything all companies will continue to pay cons money, it’s just that the intelligence lvl of lefties are so low plus having the lawsuit system like this allows cons and lefties,same thing, to continue blackmailing companies. One of these days the people on the right and just average joes will say “ya know I don’t want to just get along with these pricks on the left anymore” then what will you people on the left do for money? panhandle not on my street

          • xboxershorts

            Think about what you’re asserting here and play it back in your head. A family of 4 sues a multi-billion dollar corporation with a very large, very experienced, legal staff….and wins… with no evidence.

            It’s laughable

          • hooker

            Are you blind deaf and dumb, cons have been suing “multi-billion dollar” companies for a long time, companies even if they feel they can win the case just settle with the cons and pay up because it will be cheaper in the long run, but if the laws were changed to make losers pay all court costs all the little greedy cons would go away duh, and the greedy family of four didn’t win they settled for 750k for their right to protest or talk about the caseI would say there were no winners here as you say but only losers and cons, cons being losers, and did you know energy companies pay the most out of all corps in taxes every year did you also know that energy companies pay 40% tax rate on top of income tax did you know that apple pays half that I bet you had no idea but you’ll just shrug it off, because you don’t pay them but yes you do and i bet you were one of the idiots while bush was pres that was bitching over high gas prices are you bitching now na, why do you think gas prices are so high now I’m sure you’ll say greedy oil, not true it’s because of all the regulations and it’s priced by the world economy, don’t ever tell me that I need to rethink anything coming from someone who doesn’t think at all.

          • xboxershorts

            Wow, you are clueless and full of conspiracies. Everybody needs to point and laugh.

          • hooker

            Wow, you do provide a great target, as you said point and laugh I’ve been this at you every time you reply, and every time you reply it’s with something more hair brained than before. And I’m sure people are pointing and laughing,but not at me,I bring facts to the discussion,if 1 could call it that, you bring ignorance, I’m even beginning to think you have no clue to the meaning of the word conspiracies, as I only stated facts not bullsh-t unlike you, typical liberal democrape, now stop wasting my time with your blinding IQ of 10

          • xboxershorts

            Because your premise that a family of 4 could win in court against an army of corporate lawyers backed by several billion dollars and without evidence is laughable.

          • xboxershorts

            And when you’re reduced to insults as retorts, you’ve lost.

          • hooker

            Ok where in your little brain do you see that premise, it was stated in the court paperwork when the two newspapers tried sued for release of information, explaining how to make fire here, and the family had no proof to win the case non zippo nothing, o yes a scratchy throat and watery eyes are you kidding me well crap I’m start suing everything and everyone bottom line here is this the family of 4,excusing the kids they just acted the way mom and dad said to, where con-artists they don’t care about any contract all they cared about was the money.And as far as the insults go, if your gonna act stupid then I will call it as I see it, and I’ll say this again lawsuit law should be changed to make losers pay the whole bill, do you even realize how many times these companies are sued? companies like walmart, trucking companies, insurance companies, Ford, chevy,etc that’s why I say it’s easier and cheaper for them to say here’s money go away and never bother us again, and yes a family of four could win against a major company giving the evidence and facts were real not made up dreams from cons, it’s called truth and this family had no truth only a hustle to sell like most anti-fracking dopes

          • xboxershorts

            Have at it Einstein. Run for office, change the law if you can. Just remember this, there are always unintended consequences.

          • hooker

            Number 1 I’m no Einstein and I never claimed to be, number 2 I’d never sell my soul for politics, I like an honest living. And the less anyone has of government in their lives the better off they will be, unintended consequences or not.

          • Michele Beckett

            Although I agree with you in large percent it seems must of you didn’t see that his happened over a decade ago out west to many ranchers and farmers by same creeps in fracking business. They destroyed land, water…as if any of you get the impact yet but you will when you are paying a hundred a gallon for maybe clean water, I do agree these people caved in, and if they actually signed the kids rights, well the kids can talk in twelve years but they will no longer be on the farm. I never heard of gag order out west but I am sure it was, since there always is in these type cases.

            Facts will show out, if you are injecting the earth with chemicals that could kill you, they will leach out…proof is the red algae in places growing from pesticides and dumping.
            There is scientific proof that what goes in will come back out…not right there, well we have a case that the mud holes are backing up and with chemicals… But for century Corporate Pigs have been dumping includes Disney if you read facts, many into abandoned mines….if you look at stats you will see the poisons did leach out and the people in communities for decades have health problems, children with learning disabilities

            You have the right to believe it is okay to poison the earth and children so does everyone else or how is it we do it here, Syria, Africa etc. Proves their are no Christians or other Religious Believers because I do not see it written it is okay to destroy the Earth or Kill. But then I am able to read, I do believe we will pay for the sins we allow others to do in front of us.. So look away, another child dies, another animal is extinct…who cares, eh”?.

          • bill

            Are you nuts they are killing babies. Come drink some of this water!

    • Dana Seilhan

      We need to start downvoting these idiotic comments, since we can’t exactly find them, tie them to a chair, tape their eyelids open and force them to read the Communist Manifesto. Everything scary now is either communism or Islamic terrorism. It’s like a reflex and it’s getting really old. There is no substitute for THINKING.

      • medijohn7

        You need a life!

      • hooker

        Take the money and sell your rights lmao, and oil companies ARE SO GREEDY..what a joke

  • rescuetruth

    Aside from the obvious ethical problems, I don’t see how this is even enforceable. You can’t bargain with the First Amendment rights of a third party (in this case, your children), especially given minors cannot enter into contracts.

    • Danny Kastner

      I look forward to the documentary those kids produce when they turn 18!

  • KeepTapWaterSafe

    Welcome to Fracksylvania! Home of the vicious cycle!

    According to Chip Northrup, ShaleShock: “The truth about fracking resides in this non-disclosure agreements. These secret agreements are why the fracking industry can give sworn testimony to Congress saying that there is no documented proof of contamination.”

    • Your1Friend

      Covering up evidence is now called “21st-century American Science.”

      “There is no proof because we choose not to see evidence which interferes with profits.”

    • Michele Beckett

      Blind eye to the west and south in US Money Money Money

  • Garrett Menard

    WOW! Now if you are a child you can have your freedom of speech denied, when you become an adult by your parents or the state! So much for freedom of speech future adults of the USA!

  • whitecrane123

    You call the fracking something else. You refer to the company as “the company that cannot be named”. Lots of ways to get around this. A good attorney should be able to drag this case against the oil company out for years….by that time, hopefully, the fracking damage will have been seen for what it is and the parties open to prosecution retroactively.

  • Dana Seilhan

    I would be more horrified that these people were made sick and then made to give up their home, but that’s me. As rescuetruth pointed out, minors can’t enter into contracts–this isn’t remotely enforceable.

  • Bucky5

    Based on my — albeit limited — knowledge of the law, you can WRITE a contract, e.g., a settlement agreement, including any terms you want. However, if the contract is for something illegal, then the contract becomes null and void. To wit:

    I can enter into a contract with someone to buy (or sell) 100 pounds of marijuana. However, since marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the contract itself has no standing and is unenforceable in any court of law. It would appear the same applies to a gag order on minors who lack the understanding to give legal consent.

    • Michele Beckett

      Believe it is more to keep parents mouth shut by using rear tactic on children How low can we go….

  • RedDonnaAnn

    While I, along with every other thinking person, believe it’s a terrible, unenforceable and unAmerican ruling, why on earth would she agree to something she didn’t understand?

    • ARCuncensored

      when you are desperate to take care of your family sometimes you’ll do just about anything

  • Hobbyfarmer

    The evils of fracking aside, now that the 750K has been spent, they need a new lawsuit to get more money.

  • Overtaxed Voter

    The Hallowich case against Range Resources, MarkWest Energy and Williams
    Gas settled for $750,000. The Hallowichs have since moved.

    Their attorney says their health has improved significantly.

    I’ll bet the improvement in their health has more to do with the 3/4 of a million dollars in their pocket and less to do with their geographic location.

    • Vae Victus

      You live in their old house and drink from the well for a few months and let us know how you are doing health-wise.

    • Jason Roder

      What Vae Victus said. Also, I’m willing to bet you’re actually substantially undertaxed.

    • Michele Beckett

      If they had viable health issues why not do the research and fight back? Instead take money leave that property maybe some fool can move in…your gag order will not help next family. $750 thousand what a sell out, she look like a yuppie and they acted like one to,
      My kids health would have been on National TV not a backyard courtroom.

      Not saying there are not health issues look at Dimmoch Pa, go find the information the News used to tell us ten or more years ago about out west. The look the other way has us now hearing about farts on TV not news.
      For those negative…did you read about Japan No Why the media is blacked out to you….but who cares eh? Do any of you see that crescent that is the Shale Drilling? Nobody south of this will have clean water, might take five or ten years but Gas will be in Europe, and CEOS living off their Yachts with Corbett. Joke on you Look at the faults, then topographical maps…then argue how safe this is. DUH I don’t know how to do that man.

  • Christian Good

    this is completely unconstitutional…..

    • Renee E. Dorsey

      Yeah but these days, what does that mean? Liberals don’t care.

    • hooker

      How is that the idiots sold their own rights for 750k um they knowingly did it greed greedy people

      • bill

        they had to get on with their lives I’m sure

  • Kansasbashkir

    Why don’t you have someone speak for you? And, in the meantime, find an attorney who will work pro bono with you to challenge the gag order. This is a clear violation of your rights as well as your children’s rights to free speech.

  • james reed

    What kind of industry has too have gag orders issued regarding their procedures and procedural products and byproducts? One that must be stopped at least until those procedures and byproducts can be verified independently as safe or at the very least, non-life-threatening. Fracking cannot pass this these tests, so the industry would wish to gag it’s victims. What kind of judicial system would allow/promote this variety of obfuscation? It’s Maddness!

    • Michele Beckett

      They did so out west and doing so down south U say Judge Drink the Water

  • mickey877

    Obviously an issue here our judges are either misinformed or just plain idiots! Trust I have been thru our so called judicial system and they are NOT our piers!!!!

  • Michael Varian Daly

    This reveals the true Fascist nature The Corporate State in stark relief.

  • margaret

    this is ridiculous ! this is the have and have not fight in our own backyard. Not only about the $ rip-off, but the rights rip-off. I’m getting too old to be an effective activist, but we need to stop this and the obstructionist republicans who support the rich and oppose anything Obama proposes, just because. I wonder if they know how inherently selfish and
    racist they are.

    • Shanasmiles

      You are never too old :)

    • hooker

      another dope lefty, they signed a contract they got their money that’s all they cared about, how is this a republican issue, I really hope your not that old because your really ignorant

      • Michele Beckett

        Must say you are named appropriately but it is an insult to the good hookers who are just doing a job. You make their name slimey

  • oblivion328

    It’s not possible for them to to impose this on the kids for life. The company can only enforce this until they are 18, since up till then the parents can be held responsible for their actions.

    • Michele Beckett

      Again, unless the children get disease or low immune disorder…what can they do. Parents did not subject them to living there Good I do not want them there.
      However, if you think the good guys work for free…Nope it costs money to get in hydrologists, do land, water testing. If the water is tested, and the company knows or is being watched, are you sure your test is safe…so I tried to have people have water tested using other mailing If water comes back bad, now you lost the right to sue as you misled the testing company on where….Lawyer can finagle this but we cannot. Not cheap to win a case….but did they try, did they contact good News Sources, Even UK Guardian or did they just slink to a lawyer and say take anything.

      We are gagged also. Now for the cynics, when something happens and it will, it will be too late, State already gagged our laws and rights. Studies were cancelled by DEP thanks to Gov…you slept your self thru. But when it does hit the well at your house or the ground water what do you think your rights will be. You gave them up right on here saying that the Gov will never do anything wrong like a lil band of sheep…..when you go over the cliff there are no parachutes.

  • Matt Strout

    Why on earth did the judge approve this settlement agreement?

    • Michele Beckett

      Money Money Untraceable Money Maybe a Vacation Home or Yacht cruise

      • Matt Strout

        Sorry. Your message could not be delivered to:

        matthew strout,University of Maine (The name was not found at the remote site. Check that the name has been entered correctly.)

  • Your1Friend

    Sorry. First Amendment rights are not negotiable for the benefit of the oil and gas corporations. Truth is not negotiable. Children’s rights are not negotiable. This so-called “gag order” is illegal and unconstitutional and immoral.

    This “judge” should be fired immediately–at a minimum.

    What a tragic joke American jurisprudence has become.

    • hooker

      I’d say the parents of the kids should be fired as well, 750,000 lol what a joke it’s called greed they signed away their rights for 750k so they don’t much care for their rights do they, and people say oil companys are so greedy when it’s if you ask me there’s a lot of folks out there 10 times as greedy as all the oil companies combined

  • Dave StrongArm

    Parents were very naive and stupid for agreeing to that one.

    • Michele Beckett

      or were they Money Money

  • barney rubble

    Someone quick find Erin Brockovich

  • Jerrold Richards

    In recent decades, the corporations have been trying to convince everyone that we can sign away our right to sue, our right to speak, and in general our various rights under the Constitution. The current Supreme Court, overweighted with rightwing nutjobs, might support this. But as soon as we can get a balance of reasonable people on the court, I think we need to challenge this, and verify that one cannot sign away constitutionally protected civil and human rights even if one wants to. Such clauses in contracts must be considered void and unenforceable.

    • hooker

      your an idiot, so by your logic if someone signs a contract and receives a payout based on the contract they can then go back on the said contract when you get honorable democrapes in, spoken like a true characterless democrape, see as a conservative I always knew the word of a democrape is well crape, huh go figure

    • Michele Beckett

      Lawyers do not do anything to make law more in our favor, therefore getting bigger chunk. Where are those lawyers of moral ethics today

  • hooker

    to bad most of these people have pea brains, the mother sold her children’s rights for 750k and she knew what she was doing when she did it, you all love to say how greedy oil companies are but don’t even admit it when some dault mother is ten times as greedy ehh?

    • Jake

      So apparently you know what her options were? If I was sick and felt my property was now worthless I’d have probably settled too. If she had taken her case to court she would have been destroyed.

  • Your1Friend

    So now “hush money” is legal?

  • guest

    What kind of judges and justice does the United States have?

  • debra haddix

    Coals regulated by EPA but not the gas (fracking) industry. .wow doesn’t take a genesis to know big gas politician in government is killing coal to make way for gas industry! And the people are letting this happen

  • SageThinker

    Yeah, you just can’t do that. No gag orders. gag me.

    • SageThinker

      I will speak my truth no matter what. Nobody can take away your voice. That’s cruel and disgusting that people even consider that to be possible.

  • Banjo Nick

    This case should be required teaching in schools throughout the US and anywhere else in the world where this toxic method of extreme fossil fuel extraction threatens ecological, environmental, disaster.

  • Elliander Eldridge

    Interesting that the judge didn’t have an answer as to weather or not this is a legally binding agreement.

    If a parent can sign over the free speech of a child, does it mean that other freedoms can be signed over as well? Can a parent decide that their child is never allowed to move out of their home city, sign an agreement to that effect, and make it impossible for that child to lead a life of their own? And what about legal guardians? Can they do this as well? What about when the State has legal guardianship over the child. Can the state strip constitutional rights from a citizen even after that citizen reaches the age of consent?

    This is a very slippery slope.

    I also question as to if it is even possible for a child to follow such an order. Say, for example, fracking is discussed in school. If the child isn’t allowed to discuss it, how are they going to tell that to the teacher? Just saying “A gag order prevents me from talking about this” is still talking about it. The child will have to refuse school participation without giving a reason, and even writing assignments are required the GPA will suffer – even if by some chance the children would like to write in support.

    Ironically, this gag order has resulted in more people talking about this issue and it has had a greater negative impact on them than this family could ever do by talking. I think that is the only reason why the company changed it’s position to exclude the children.

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