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Stephanie Hallowich’s Family, Including Children Ages 7 and 10, Forbidden from Talking about Fracking, Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling, Health Impacts

August 1, 2013

“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,” Susan Phillips reports today in a radio story aired on National Public Radio, which also appears on Newsworks blog here: “Gag order imposed on two kids in Marcellus fracking case.”

Protecting Our Waters calls for all non-disclosure clauses related to the air, water, and health impacts from shale gas development to be abolished. Public health is impacted by not only shale gas drilling and fracturing, but by the flowback waste, compressor stations and processing facilities such as those that harmed the Hallowich family’s health and forced them to leave their dream home. The public’s right to know outweighs the industry’s determination to keep its toxic secrets. We need a federally mandated “black box” on fracking health impacts.

Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the story yesterday, in “Confidential agreement should have been part of the Washington County Marcellus Shale case record,” pointing out that Range Resources apparently managed to get this outrageous aspect of the non-disclosure Range bullied the Hallowich family into signing, originally ommitted from the public court record.

Health Impacts Include nosebleeds, burning eyes, burning throats, headaches, ringing ears

What actually happened to the Hallowich family and their health is best reported in “Personal Account: Stephanie Hallowich” on the important gas drilling impacts website marcellus-shale.us. It’s crucial to include this account in any understanding of the Hallowich family’s nightmare, because now that the family is silenced forever they can no longer speak for themselves in the present tense. Key excerpts (emphasis added):

The impoundment dam went from holding fresh water to flowback, and holes developed in the plastic liner. Results from water tests on their well water began showing bizarre chemicals like acetone and acrylonitrile, as well as toluene, ethyl benzene, tetra-chlorethylene and styrene….

They found out one of the chemicals is incredibly dangerous to breathe in when showering, even more so than from dermal contact or ingesting it. [In November 2012, the family learned that] PA DEP was testing water wells around drilling for VOC’s [volatile organic compounds] but withholding some of the results from certain affected individuals….

n the meantime, the cryogenic facility, which was initially built without the proper local permits, began to enlarge. Then the compressor station doubled in size from two compressors to four. Soon the children were experiencing nose bleeds, similar to what has been reported from residents of Dish, Texas, another small area overpopulated with compressor stations…

Stephanie Hallowich explains it this way, “We have a gas plant and compressor station next door, and we’ve had a lot of air issues, where it smells really bad, we get burning eyes, burning throats, headaches, ringing ears; we don’t know what’s coming out. We recently had some air testing done and it’s shown that there are high levels of VOCs coming out of these plants. And with the compressor station and the plant being so close together, and two completely different companies, they each have their own air permit. First of all, they should never be allowed that close together because the emissions are too extreme. The DEP doesn’t look at the cumulative effect of these emissions coming out so we’re getting kind of a double whammy of what would be allowed anywhere else.”

Read the full Stephanie Hallowich story, with photos of the waste pit, cryogenic facility, maps and more, here.

The nose bleeds, burning eyes, burning throats, headaches, ringing ears and other symptoms suffered by family members — along with the air and water tests and the specific impacts from the leaking flowback waste pit; the cryogenic facility, and the compressor station — are exactly what Range REsources wants this entire family to shut up about forever.  Range paid $750,000 for this silence — that’s less than what it takes for a shale gas drilling company to run a fracking operation for one day during the active fracturing stage.  But with only this one option to move from their home for the sake of their family, and without any way to know what the future health impacts may be 20 or 30 years from now, the Hallowich family needed that sum.

The Hallowich family’s lawyer said that he’s never seen such a broad gag order in 25 years of practice. Susan Phillips reports:

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 it 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 Villani, 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 tells 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, Villariquestioned 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 themselves from their 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 Pitzarelli 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 Hallowich’s have since moved. Their attorney says their health has improved significantly.

A six year old’s view of gas drilling

“Sad sun and sky: they don’t want to smell the yucky stuff either,” explains then-six-year-old Aly in this drawing:

Aly's Gasland in Hickory

Aly’s Gasland in HIckory, Washington County, Pennsylvania. From marcellus-shale.us

3 Comments
  1. Iris Marie Bloom permalink
    August 1, 2013 10:07 am

    “That stinky stuff” and long term effects: The question of long-term effects is extremely important. This open question is an ongoing agony with which the Hallowich family must live, and it’s part of why Range Resources was so eager to silence the entire family. As part of her account as quoted in marcellus-shale.us, Stephanie describes the volatile organic chemical (VOC) levels and how the first testing went: “When the man came to take the air sampling tests, he didn’t even have the equipment completely out of the car and the alarm went off for the VOC’s, and the alarms goes off at 50 parts per million. We were above that, just in our driveway. There was no odor that day, nothing that would give us a clue that we were being exposed to that. That’s where my kids play, their swing set is right next to that. That’s where they spend all their time. We have a wind sock in the background because we watch which way the wind blows so we know if anything is coming from the plant or compressor. The levels are so high, and with what they have breathed in, we don’t know what the long term effects are going to be.”

  2. August 3, 2013 12:58 am

    Taking your children to safety is the right thing to do. How many people have to leave the security of HOME ? How many people have been made sick ?Where is societies safety net ? Why aren’t the crimes being punishes Criminally ? They can not continue as civil crimes with the criminals controlling the outcome .The attorney general has to address these issues.

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