Gag the Little Children — Forever

Coming soon to a yard near yours? A fracking well looms over a residence in the Eagle Ford shale region of Texas. (Photo by Earthworks Action/Flickr)

The Hallowich family will never forget what happened when the frackers moved in next door. But under court order, they must never speak of it.  (Photo, of a similar situation in North Dakota, by Earthworks Action/Flickr)

These two things happened in the summer of 2011:

  1. US EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told a Congressional committee, “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water,” echoing industry insistence that not a single water well had been affected by fracking [see “The Mother of All Fracking Lies,” The Daily Impact, 8/17/2011];
  2. A large fracking company, Range Resources Corp., agreed to pay a Pennsylvania family $750,000 to shut them up about how a fracking operation next to their 10-acre farm had polluted their water and air, seriously damaging their health.  

That frackers lie is not the headline. Here’s the headline: in approving the settlement agreement, the court imposed on the family’s two minor children, then 10 and seven years old, a lifetime ban on talking about fracking or the Marcellus Shale region.

The agreement, unsealed fully by the court last week, enjoined the adult Hallowiches, Chris and Stephanie, from talking in public about the destruction of their farm and life by the proximity of four wells, gas compressor stations and a 3-acre water impoundment operated by Range Resources. That has become the norm in fracking country, where companies want to avoid public exposure of the awful reality of fracking as described in scores of lawsuits. To avoid conviction, and description of their transgressions  in public court records, they offer “settlements” with gag orders attached.

A case can be made for the availability of this option. Families are often desperate, as the Hallowiches were, to get themselves and their children away from a  toxic environment, and trials take a lot more time than settlements. Many families might not have the resources to pay for a long trial, and finding a lawyer who will take the case “on spec” can be difficult in a region in the grip of hysterical greed.

But minor children? How do you explain to them that if, for the rest of their lives, they use the words “fracking” or “Marcellus Shale,” they will have committed a crime? (Or at least a tort.) And if you can explain it, how do you justify it? And if you can explain and justify it, how do you enforce it? Is some suit from Range Resources’ law firm going to follow these kids around, making sure, for example, that if they are diagnosed with cancer they never mention to their doctor the words “fracking” or Marcellus Shale?”

Meanwhile the CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, was entirely within his rights to proclaim, as he did a few months before the Hallowich case was heard, “To our knowledge, there have been a million wells fracked, and no documented cases of contamination of groundwater from hydraulic fracturing.” He was speaking to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in January of 2010. Talk about contempt of Congress.

It is the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (the Second Amendment is, well, number two): our guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press. It is regrettable that it has become routine for corporations to demand and get legal limitations on individuals’ freedom of speech, simply to avoid embarrassment. It’s a shame that the legal tradition — that a person cannot sign away Constitutional rights — is being abandoned.

Bit it is an unmitigated disaster when a judge finds it acceptable to impose on a seven-year-old child a lifetime limitation on free speech, in order to protect the sensibilities of the oil fracker who destroyed her family’s home and dreams. A traumatic experience of which she must never speak.

And let us please remember this: the second guarantee incorporated in the First Amendment is of freedom of the press. Aside from the Guardian, a British newspaper, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (which has pursued the story relentlessly from the beginning), the lies of the EPA administrator and  the Exxon CEO, the long trauma of the Hallowich family and now the abusive, perpetual restraints placed on their innocent children, have merited virtually no coverage from the mainstream media. Apparently they have no skin in the game.

When they gagged small children for their lifetimes, I did not speak up, because I wasn’t a small child

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7 Responses to Gag the Little Children — Forever

  1. Rael Gleitsman says:

    I hear America gagging.

  2. Rael Gleitsman says:


  3. Tom says:

    That the Constitution has been relegated to a museum piece and “our rights” morphed into “the governments’ privileges” (to take away) is the crux of the take-over of the U.S. by the corporate sector/super-wealthy. Once bribery and money in politics became “legit” with Citizens United, torture became “enhanced” interrogation and the police became “militarized” it was just a short time (a few administrations) until the government became the wardens and the entire country a prison. Now, unless you’re one of the .01% or their protected minions, you’re on work detail until you die.

    There’s no more “retirement” or pensions, welfare, social security or insurance either – and those that think they have them will be in for disappointment when they discover that it was all based on lies, Ponzi economics and the unrealistic idea of continuous prosperity forever. The joke is on US for having participated and for believing the propaganda, allowing ourselves to be cajoled into following along by the media and advertising, “education” (as indoctrination), and peer pressure/social pressure to “conform” to all the “fun” we’re having polluting ourselves to death. Go ahead, choose a career. Work will make you free. Be a part of it all.

    The government is held captive by rogue agencies like the NSA, CIA and FBI that have all the surveillance on everyone – including chief justices, presidents etc. – and this information could find its way out of the bag were someone to not go along with the program, and assassination is just another tool to keep people in line.

    The law has become another tool of the corporate sector by which it coerces us all with the threat of incarceration, violence and/or death – from birth to death. Gag orders are the equivalent of a lobotomy – or a “this never happened” – to the citizenry. It extends to things like the 9/11 “official story” and the JFK assassination (and all the others) that we never hear the truth about, and one gets the distinct impression that the government does whatever it wants and we’re helpless pawns that occasionally get in the way or need to be dealt with.

    Your shocking essay, Mr. Lewis, describes a direct result of Dick Cheney’s blessing (in that famous secret energy meeting during the early days of Bush I) of fracking, where he put into place exemptions to the Clean Air and Water Acts and forbade doctors from using any information from fracking (like the proprietary chemicals used and their side-effects) in practicing medicine (they were to LIE to their patients).

    The environment has no voice and only reacts to the madness that men do. Thus the 6th mass extinction event now unfolding.

  4. Steven Martin says:

    Their hush money (borrowed no doubt), will not be able to buy silence forever. Eventually a property owner will refuse it, perhaps already have another home or someplace else to go to, and then can go public with their case and all the information. Wish that would happen real soon.

  5. Denis Frith says:

    Corporations make money only if the masses are prepared to pay for what they produce. They cope with the deleterious consequences of their operations by using some of their profits to hide what they are doing wrong.The article provides just one example of what is a global malfeasance. This process will continue so long as the masses pursue a high material standard of lining regardless of the ecological and social costs. Blaming the corporations for their pursuit of money is not taking into account the irrational power of the well off in society.

  6. As long as Oil God Rex keeps being presented as a good guy by the media and I can buy gasoline for less per gallon than I can buy milk (or water!), do not expect any change to the status quo.

    One small ray of hope: If the lesser of two evils does manage to beat Trump, and the pissed-off Sanders supporters, rather than go home and sulk, hold her to all those promises she made during her acceptance speech, else they all fade away into more say-anything-to-get-elected pandering. Getting these professional pols into office is only part of the job; the rest is riding their elected asses to keep them honest, or as close to honest as is possible.