Although gag-orders on adults are a reasonably common conditions of settlements, these recently unsealed records from 2011 show that Range Resources Corporation demanded children be banned from ever discussing fracking… and were granted this by the courts.
Following contamination of the Hallowich’s 10 acre farm in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania in 2010, the family understandably took up talking about the dangers of hydraulic fracking. The company in turn offered the family a $750,000 settlement under the condition that they keep their mouths, and the mouths of their children shut… for life.
Although adults do have the right to accept such terms, which are regularly seen in settlements with oil and gas companies, is it appropriate to forbid children of talking about a topic for their entire lives? These children were not old enough to give their consent to such a deal, and indeed a “ban” on talking about any issue is extremely questionable. It raises the question of whether it is even possible to ban a child from discussing something, especially for a timeframe like “for life.” Is this not an infringement on free speech?
The reason for this gag order is clear, as The Guardian reports:
…the secrecy has helped the industry resist more stringent environmental and health controls – by burying evidence of water contamination and health problems associated with natural gas operations. The Hallowichs’ lawyer, Peter Villari, told the court he had never seen a gag order imposed on children in his 30 years of practicing law, according to the released transcript.
Is this yet another example of financial power trumping actual rights, of money triumphing over environmental and civic responsibilities? There appears to be clear evidence to the fact that fracking is not environmentally safe and that the risks outweigh the benefits. Am I alone in finding it inappropriate for a court to grant the condition of a life-long gag order on children, in the effort to hide the environmental costs of a widely used method of obtaining natural gas?