Known mafia tactics used by drilling and fracking industry, Lifelong ‘frack gag’: Two Pennsylvania children banned from discussing fracking

Known mafia tactics used by drilling and fracking industry by TXSHARON, August 4, 2013, Bluedaze
When the oil & gas industry traps people in the Cycle of Fracking Denial, they are quick to justify the gag order by saying it was a “mutual agreement.” But we know better.

Peter Vallari, the Hallowichs’ lawyer:  “… it was imposed on my clients, put in the way of an ultimatum.

‘Frack Gag’ Bans Children From Talking About Fracking, Forever
BY ANDREW BREINER ON AUGUST 2, 2013

Extortion is a common mafia tactic used to obtain money, property or service. In this case, the oil and gas industry wants the land where we live. They move into neighborhoods and even backyards with their heavy industrial activities and pollute our air, water and soil. We are in their way.

Range Resources’ spokesman Matt Pitzarella insisted that the family wanted to move because “they had an unusual amount of activity around them.” Source

Families cannot live next to these industrial practices but they are trapped. Their property value declines along with their health from exposure to hazardous air pollutants, water contamination, constant noise, dust and lights. The stress takes a heavy toll on emotional and physical health and overall well-being.

Working diligently over an expended time period, a family or neighborhood can eventually collect enough evidence of harm to file a lawsuit. But few people have the resources for extended legal battles so the lawsuit is most often settled out of court. The settlement comes with a non-disclosure agreement that means you are never again allowed to speak about what happened. All the documentation you obtained to prove harm is forever sealed in secrecy. This allows the industry and our government to continue saying there is no proof of harm. …

For Background see The mouths of babes: Range Resources fears the children’s truth and links contained within.

The First Rule of Frack Club: We Don’t Talk About Fracking by JO BORRÁS, August 4, 2013, gas2.org 

2013 08 04 Hallowich family gag_mainThe case settled with about $750,000 ending up in the hands of the Hallowich family to re-locate, but here’s the weird part: The 7- and 10-year-old Hallowich children have been barred from discussing details of the case for the rest of their lives. … Now, I’m no “legal eagle”, but I have to assume there is a lot more to Range Resources’ decision to pony up $750,000 to the Hallowich family than “it was noisy, and we felt bad for them”. … Whatever the reason, here’s hoping the Hallowich kids challenge the legality of their parents’s literally signing away their rights in exchange for dirty gas and oil money (and not a lot of that, even!), and “come clean” so that whatever was happening to them doesn’t happen to other kids. [Emphasis added] 

Lifelong ‘frack gag’: Two Pennsylvania children banned from discussing fracking by rt.com, August 03, 2013

2013 08 03 Screen Capture Photo Stephanie Hallowich daughter AlisonDetails of the case only emerged recently when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette managed to get court transcripts released. The paper’s reporters were originally barred from attending the settlement hearing, and had to wait until a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a lower court had erred in blocking the unsealing of the records. … Along with the gas companies, the Hallowich family also sued the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. In its ruling to unseal court records, the superior court also noted that the August 2011 hearing during which the record was sealed was held three days prior to schedule, without an official notification of the change of date, reports the New York Times.

According to Bruce Baizel, Energy Program Director at Earthworks, which focuses on mineral and energy development, the motives behind restrictive gag orders post-settlements is to conceal any evidence of adverse environmental impact from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“The refrain in the industry is, this is a safe process. There’s no record of contamination. That whole claim would be undermined if these things were public,” Baizel told ClimateProgress. Moreover, attempts to measure the number of settlements with non-disclosure agreements have failed. “They don’t have to be registered, they don’t have to be filed. It’s kind of a black hole,” says Baizel.

Prior to the settlement the Hallowichs said that nearby gas drilling had caused “burning eyes, sore throats, headaches and earaches, and contaminated their water supply.” Once the settlement was reached and the gag order enacted, however, a spokesman for Range Resources stated that the family had “never produced evidence of any health impacts,” and that the Hallowichs primary motive for moving was instead due to “an unusual amount of activity around them.”

According to a 2010 congressional investigation, Halliburton along with other fracking companies had used 32 million gallons of diesel products, including toxic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Low levels of exposure to such chemicals can trigger headaches and dizziness, while higher exposure can cause cancer. An agency official told congressional investigators in 2011 that the EPA assumed that the use of diesel in fracking had stopped seven years ago. The total amount of diesel in that instance was calculated based on voluntary disclosures by companies like Halliburton.

As for the gag order on the Hallowich family, Range Resources recently appeared to back away from indications that it applied to the two children, though it was unclear at this time whether the other companies involved in the settlement agreed on that point. “Those comments are not accurate from our former outside counsel and are not reflective of our interpretation of the settlement,” wrote spokesman Matt Pitzarelli in an email to StateImpact when questioned about the case. The seven and ten year olds are free to discuss whatever they wish now and when they are of age,” added Pitzarelli.

According to the attorney representing the Hallowichs, since moving their health has improved significantly. [Emphasis added]

‘Frack Gag’ Bans Children From Talking About Fracking, Forever by Andrew Breiner, August 2, 2013, Think Progress
The Hallowich family’s gag order is only the most extreme example of a tactic that critics say effectively silences anyone hurt by fracking. It’s a choice between receiving compensation for damage done to one’s health and property, or publicizing the abuses that caused the harm. Virtually no one can forgo compensation, so their stories go untold.
Bruce Baizel, Energy Program Director at Earthworks, an environmental group focusing on mineral and energy development, said in a phone interview that the companies’ motives are clear. “The refrain in the industry is, this is a safe process. There’s no record of contamination. That whole claim would be undermined if these things were public.”

The Hallowich case shows how drilling companies can use victims’ silence to rewrite their story. … It’s not the only time gas exploration companies have gone to great lengths to keep the health problems caused by fracking under wraps. A 2012 Pennsylvania law requires companies to tell doctors the chemical contents of fracking fluids, so long as doctors don’t reveal that information, even to patients they are treating for fracking-related illness.

Sharon Wilson, an organizer with Earthworks, said that was the point. “These gag orders are the reason [drillers] can give testimony to Congress and say there are no documented cases of contamination. And then elected officials can repeat that.” She makes it clear she doesn’t blame the families who take the settlements. “They do what they have to do to protect themselves and their children.” Wilson witnessed the very beginning of fracking in her own backyard. Some of the first experiments in combining horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing took place around her 42 acres of land in Wise County, Texas, on the Barnett Shale, and everyone was cashing in. But she saw the negatives first-hand. “I thought they were digging a stock pond, but it was actually a waste pit,” she said on the phone. “I caught them illegally dumping in streams and creeks.” That led Wilson to start the work she continues to this day with Earthworks – helping landowners prove damage to their health and property from fracking, for eventual settlement. But as soon as the settlement comes, she said, “they get gagged. And then they can never talk about it again.” Wilson knew the Hallowichs, but now rarely talks to them, afraid she could cause them to run afoul of the gag order. But even she was shocked that the Hallowich children would be gagged too. “How can you even do that?” she asked. “Is there a list of words the kids aren’t allowed to say?”

Wary of the bad press for putting a lifetime gag order on two minors, Pizzarella told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “we don’t believe the [Hallowich] settlement applies to children.” This, despite ready availability of the settlement transcript, in which the company’s lawyer states “I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it.” Vallari, the Hallowichs’ attorney, doesn’t buy Pizzarella’s retraction via press. “Their lawyers insisted on that language, and they said they wanted it enforced,” he said when reached by phone. “Until they write me a letter or sign a stipulation saying [it doesn’t apply to the children], I don’t believe it.” Pizzarella did not respond to requests for interview.

Wilson, the organizer, said that even beyond making political action more difficult, gag orders are causing people direct harm. “When you get a settlement and get gagged, you can’t warn your neighbors,” she said. “Then your neighbors drink the very same water, and have health issues that are probably permanent.” [Emphasis added]

Stephanie Hallowich discusses water issues due to hydraulic fracturing by PennEnvironment, December 2, 2010

[Refer also to:

Confidential agreement should have been part of Washington County Marcellus Shale case record, Newly released transcript reveals details of lifetime gag order on Hallowich family, including their children

Drillers Silence Fracking Claims With Sealed Settlements

Attorneys seek missing exhibit in Hallowich case

Pennsylvania Judge Orders Records Opened in Fracking Case, Gas Industry Loses Fight to Keep Fracking Pollution Case Secret

Newspapers seeking settlement disclosure to get speedy hearing, Ruffalo: Gas industry hiding behind deals

Appeals Court Agrees with Newspapers in the Hollowich v. Range Resources Sealed Fracking Case

Researchers: Gas industry secrecy obstructs public health

Range denies intentionally providing inaccurate water testing results ]

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