Photo credit: Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette
A Washington County court transcript, just released today, shows that Range Resources was afraid of what children might say about their operations near the family’s home so they insisted the children be gagged for life.
Confidential agreement should have been part of Washington County Marcellus Shale case record
Newly released transcript also reveals details of lifetime gag order on Hallowich family
July 31, 2013
The hearing transcript, which provides details of the $750,000 settlement paid to the family, shows the Hallowiches reluctantly agreed to the terms of the settlement to remove their children from what they considered an unhealthy environment. They also raised questions about how the lifetime “gag order,” as the judge called it, included in the settlement that required the entire family to never discuss Marcellus Shale or fracking would be enforced against their then 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.
Background: Judge Debbie O‘Dell Seneca questioned the handling of the case by Judge Paul Pozonsky who has been charged with theft and tampering with evidence. In March, Judge O’Dell ordered that the documents be unsealed but Exhibit B was missing from the official court record.
The signing of these non-disclosure agreements amounts to extortion.
The obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.
How can minor children be forced to give up their 1st amendment rights for their entire lives?
Of course, the companies involved have appealed Judge O’Dell’s decision because they can’t allow the truth to slip out of a cherub’s lips.
UPDATE: The transcript has been posted.
When asked if they understood that the gag order means they can never discuss what happened to them:
MR. HALLOWICH: Unfortunately, yes.
The Hallowich attorney:
MR. VILLARI: I would correct for the record, I did not draft this totally. There is an agreement that was drafted with all counsel involved. You understand that —
THE COURT: It was just my reference that the petition was submitted by you as their attorney. I stand corrected for the record.
Is that agreement the missing Exhibit B?
When asked if they accepted the terms as in the best interest of their children and family:
MR. HALLOWICH: Yes, and health reasons.We needed to do this in order to get them out of this situation.
Then the attorney asked Stephanie Hallowich specifically if she understood that no matter what is said about her on the internet she cannot respond.
Finally their attorney explains, “no one from this point forward will ever be able to review this record or have any understanding of what has happened here today or in the past lawsuit in which you, yourselves, were the defendants.”
And to that Chris Hallowich responds:
MR. HALLOWICH: In order to protect the children, yes.
They went off the record for some counsel. Then on the record, Stephanie states:
MRS. HALLOWICH: We have agreed to this because we needed to get the children out of there for their health and safety. My concern is they’re minors. I’m not quite sure I fully understand. We know we’re signing for silence forever, but how is this taking away our children’s rights being minors now? I mean, my daughter is turning 7 today, my son is 10. How — I guess that concerns me that we need to keep them safe, but —
Then the Hallowich attorney explains to the judge how bizarre and whacked it is to try and forever silence 7 and 10 year old children. But the Range attorney is insistent that the children be silenced forever and ever, Amen.
But the Hallowich attorney tried once more to express the gravity:
MR. VILLARI: …Again, I will say I have practiced 30-some years. I will say on the record I’ve never seen a request like this nor in my research that I can find anything that says it can be done…
And then the Range Resources attorney stays characteristically classy and lets everyone know that if the Hallowich children ever speak of what happened to them or anything at all to do with Marcellus drilling they will sue them–the children. Range will sue the 7 and 10 year old children.
MR. SWETZ: I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it.
Then as a CYA Chris says:
MR. HALLOWICH: If I may, no matter where we live, they’re going to be amongst other children that are children of people within this industry, and they’re going to be around it every single day of their life, that if they, in turn, say one of the illegal words when they’re outside of our guardianship, we’re going to have difficulty controlling that. We can inform them. We can tell them they cannot say this, they cannot say that, but if on the playground —
So the Hallowich children have words that are now illegal for them to say. What? Is there a list of these illegal words? Do they have to memorize which words are illegal?
At the end, the judge has one of his clerks go with the court reporter to file the sealed documents. So what happened to Exhibit B?
UPDATE: Matt Pitzarella, Range Resources spokesperson and psyops specialist has spoken. He claims Range does not agree with suing children.
Don Hopey, July 31, 2013Mr. Pitzarella said today that Mr. Swetz’s comment about enforcing the nondisclosure agreement “is not our understanding, not something we agree with.” Mr. Swetz could not be reached for comment.
If you believe that, I have something for you HERE.
- Firstly, I know a little something about how Range operates legally and they are a very hands on outfit. If I had to bet, I would bet that someone at the very top wrote every word of the non-disclosure agreement including whate ever the “illegal words” are.
- Secondly, note in the transcript that most of the time was spent talking about the children’s gag. Mr Villari took great pains to carefully explain to the family what they were signing.
- Thirdly, why would a gag be carefully constructed to include the children and their “illegal words” if the company had no intention of trying to enforce it? If they didn’t agree with the court order gagging the children, why include that?
- Lastly, I remembered something that Don Hopey had written previously on the day the Hallowichs signed the agreement–Allison’s 7th birthday. It only took me a few moments of Googling to find it.
Ms. Hallowich has been a vocal critic of the drilling industry, but on Tuesday as she left the judge’s chambers with her husband and children and their attorney, Peter Villari, she said she was sorry but couldn’t comment.
This is not the normal way a family celebrates a 7th birthday. If I had to bet, I would bet that the children were commanded to attend.
Here is a picture of the Hallowich home with their new neighbors.
The truth about fracking resides in these 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.
UPDATE: A round up of some of the news.
About Sharon Wilson
Sharon Wilson is considered a leading citizen expert on the impacts of shale oil and gas extraction. She is the go-to person whether it’s top EPA officials from D.C., national and international news networks, or residents facing the shock of eminent domain and the devastating environmental effects of natural gas development in their backyards.
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alan aszkler says
So the family got 750K? and you have a problem with a non disclosure?
This is a matter of public health and safety so in these cases there should be no NDAs and certainly there should be no gags on children.
Let’s just say that you bought several acres in a beautiful hilly area and built your custom dream home–there is no telling what a place like that might be worth. Then suddenly the oil and gas industry surrounded you. You water was contaminated, your air constantly fouled. You and your children suffer a variety of health ailments and your children woke in the night covered with blood from nosebleeds. Let’s say this situation went on for quite some time before you were able to get your children out.
How much would be enough? Would you be concerned about your children’s future health issues and how to pay for any medical bills. These companies make billions in profit every year. 750k is just the cost of doing business to them. 500k is about the cost of treating one case of childhood leukemia.
Scott rogers says
This is really a display of how little we the people are thought of by big business. They are destroying our country with fracking not to mention the atmosphere by pumping greenhouse gasses into the air at an uncontrolled rate but hey don’t believe in the science of things I say if they want to prove nothing is wrong in these ares they ( gas co. ) should move their family’s as well as themselves into these contaminated houses and film it live. Prove the people saying there are problems wrong. I highly doubt that will happen. All the money in the world won’t help in 20 years if this process is allowed to continue.
Another Alberta Neighbour says
I live with the constant stress of not knowing what chemicals i and my loved ones bathed in, ingested for years, after encana secretly frac’d directly into my community’s drinking water aquifers.
Encana and regulator tests on my water show the chromium went up by factor of 45, the barium and strontium doubled, the life-threatening explosive concentrations of methane, the ethane with fingerprints like encana’s and petroleum distillates after encana frac’d the aquifer that supplies my well. I’m an oil patch scientist with 30 years experience – still it took me years to uncover encana’s cover up, nastily enabled by bullying and lying Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the regulators and alberta govt.
A decade of research later, a lawsuit going backwards that is costing me everything, and still i do not know encana’s secret brew injected into our aquifers that provides water currently used by my community, including children and 40,000 to 50,000 annual visitors. A regulator monitoring water well in my community tested positive for hexavalent chromium (a known carcinogen); another regulator monitoring “water” well had no water, just very high levels of methane and ethane, so much so, the gases forced the “water” well’s lid open – the regulator did not warn the community.
Water and health have taken on new meanings for me, especially after living frac’d and losing loved ones to cancer.
Water is sacred and frac’ing violates it. There’s no doubt about it.
Alan, to see anyone think that any amount of money is worth a child’s freedom of speech (never mind the health impacts) is vile to me. I know all too well the horrors of living without water, wondering what encana toxics have done to my health and the health of my loved ones and community, never mind the added horrors of the many trying to silence me, including the police.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police showed me how bad frac’ing is, when they invaded my private property, trying to intimidate me to silence.
I understand, with a lot of compassion, why families settle and move away to try to protect their children, but gag orders are wrong – in all ways, despicable and must be made illegal, globally. Any company that uses them to cover up frac contamination and impacts to any child’s health, in my professional opinion, ought to have their exploration, facility and well licences revoked – permanently.
I will not settle and will not be gagged. My lawsuit is about truth, water, all the children harmed by this industry, not money.
DRILLING DOWN, One Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More by Ian Urbina The New York Times, August 3, 2011.
“I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. … “When fracturing the Kaiser gas well on Mr. James Parson’s property, fractures were created allowing migration of fracture fluid from the gas well to Mr. Parson’s water well,” according to the agency’s summary of the case. “This fracture fluid, along with natural gas was present in Mr. Parson’s water, rendering it unusable.” … In their report, E.P.A. officials also wrote that Mr. Parsons’ case was highlighted as an “illustrative” example of the hazards created by this type of drilling, and that legal settlements and nondisclosure agreements prevented access to scientific documentation of other incidents. … Dan Derkics, a 17-year veteran of the environmental agency who oversaw research for the report, said that hundreds of other cases of drinking water contamination were found, many of which looked from preliminary investigations to have been caused by hydraulic fracturing like the one from West Virginia. … “I can assure you that the Jackson County case was not unique,” said Mr. Derkics, who retired from the agency in 1994. “That is why the drinking water concerns are real.”
2 million is what it cost to treat adulyhood secondary Leukemia. And they still die.
I’m sure I lowballed the childhood leukemia price tag. At any rate, $750 is not nearly enough to compensate a family for enduring such horror and giving up their American dream.
it’s so easy for other people to judge when they are sitting in their climate controlled homes on the safe side of town.
It sure is. So easy for them to sit back and spew venom and lies. Have you ever had anyone comment favorably here, who actually lived right next to one of these horrific industrial sites that run 24/7?
I’m woken up every night, not only by noise, but because my throat is so tight, I can hardly breathe. I’ve already experienced the very worst that can happen, now I wonder if it will repeat itself.
There is description strong enough to express my hatred for the greedy and heartless industry, and the politicians who are in bed with them. I pray for Karma.
Alberta Neighbor says
Thank you for posting this stunning information Sharon.
“And then the Range Resources attorney stays characteristically classy and lets everyone know that if the Hallowich children ever speak of what happened to them or anything at all to do with Marcellus drilling they will sue them–the children. Range will sue the 7 and 10 year old children.
MR. SWETZ: I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it.”
This makes me want to vomit, it is reminiscent of what a pedophile would do. “Don’t tell anyone sweetie, it’ll be our little secret and you wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt … right?”
It is truly sickening, and what the hell are we teaching our kids by allowing this?
Fish Creek Neighbor says
Silencing the children over something which they have no say or control is child abuse. Word has it Exxon hates your children. Now is it fair to say that Range Resources hates your children?
Fish Creek Neighbor recently posted..Don’t Frack Our Future – Doreen’s Story
I do think it’s fair to say Range Resources hates your children. They hate all of us. We are in their way.
Tim Ruggiero says
alan aszkler: $750,000 to most people is a lot of money. We’ll probably never know, but I’d love to know how much money Range Resources and MarkWest spent on attorney fees and expenses on their defense. I hope it was an embarrassingly large amount. The Hallowichs didn’t clear $750K, either.
That said, I’m willing to bet that Range Resources would make you a deal on selling the former Hallowich home, probably pennies on the dollar for the formerly worth $300K+ home and land. Just one teeny tiny little requirement would highly likely be attached: A document you sign that says that no matter what happens, you cannot sue Range Resources under any circumstances.
Gagging and vomiting in the middle of the night due to waves of gases and fumes coming into your new home? Nosebleeds, headaches, body rashes, disorientation, dizziness? That’s too bad..but hey, you got a great deal on that house. Wife or kids getting sick or any of these symptoms? Sorry, nothing you can do about it. Maybe it’ll go away. Matt Pitzarella, Paid Liar for Range Resources, has said many times the process of hydraulic fracturing is a temporary process, only lasting 2-3 months. That process was long over more than 2 years ago, so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Oops, I almost forgot to mention the water. Oh, never mind, I’m sure it’s fine now. Probably.
This FuelFix piece fits well with the the above piece:
Some say industry arrogance fueled fracking anger.
That story is full of industry talking points. No one would care about arrogance if they weren’t so horribly and dangerously incompetent.
The NICEST thing that can be said about an oil company IS ——–They are NOT NICE people!!!!
Alma Hasse says
Excellent blog post!
Here’s the stick in my eye from Matt PEEPEE, “All of the reports done at the time indicated no exposure (from the gas development) and they never produced evidence of any health impacts,” Mr. Pitzarella said.
“We did say that clearly the Hallowiches were not in an ideal situation in terms of their lifestyle. They had an unusual amount of activity around them. We didn’t want them in that situation.”
Someone should ask him the VERY obvious question, “Then WHY IN THE HELL did Range Resources PUT IN all of this infrastructure in this first place? The Hallowich’s were there FIRST!!
I don’t have an email address for him or I’d ask him directly!
Tim Ruggiero says
Even if you sent him an email, he wouldn’t respond-he never does unless he controls the narrative. That’s why there’s so many “Range Resources could not be reached for comment” lines. The Hallowich’s were not the first people to endure this form of corporate torture, and Range Resources knew well in advance of the potential problems. What they didn’t count on was that they picked a fight with a mama grizzly bear with cubs. I have no doubt that RR would have bought out the Hallowich’s from the start had they a brain amongst them. But they are too arrogant to learn from their mistakes, as it’s far easier for them just to budget for these types of things. They can always just send out Pitz to spin a story.
Alma Hasse says
Not surprising Tim– industry does seem to have a knack for taking the coward’s way out!
Personally, I would never settle, I would TELL THE ENTIRE WORLD about the harm they caused my children and my family……. How is it possible that they are getting away with this? We will all be poisoned and killed by the poisons that are being put into the ground contaminating the underground rivers. Where is the outrage? Why isn’t this one every single news channel?
BRAVO to the producers of GASLAND. They have a backbone!
I have watched many people go through this now and you really don’t know what you might do until you are in this position. If you are constantly being gassed or if you HAVE NO WATER, if your children are waking up at night covered in blood from their nosebleeds, if everyone has a painful rash… You don’t know what you might go to get out of that situation.
Sue Heavenrich says
it will be most entertaining to watch Big Oil & Gas sue little children for saying “naughty” words. Even better when they sue adult children for a document they didn’t sign… I can’t wait. It will besmirch the industry for ever and probably irritate everyone so much that they get the Citizens United overturned.
Sue Heavenrich recently posted..One Well Does Not a Study Make
Bring your own chair, I will buy the beer and popcorn.
I see that they can not speak about the Marcellus Shale, but I do not see a specific list of words or any details to the “gag order” that applies to the Hallowich children. Was there any document like this released when this was unsealed?
The judge ordered that the documents be unsealed but when that happened, Exhibit B was missing (there is a link to more information about that in the post). Yes, court records are, somehow, missing and the story around that is rather bizarre.
My understanding of what’s happened is the judge ordered the transcript from when the documents were sealed to see if Exhibit B was a part of the record. Clearly it was.
Now, I think the judge will have to subpoena someone who was a party to the case to get their copy of Exhibit B since the court’s copy has disappeared.
I heard that David Poole was seen in Staples today buying a case of whiteout. /joke
Andy Mechling says
This is beyond strange. I’m not sure I would have believed it if you hadn’t posted those transcripts. Wow! Range is threatening to gag minor children for life?
In which court? I ask.
When those kids turn 18; it’s a whole new ballgame.
As adults; those individuals will be able to say anything they please; and they will be free to bring legal action against anyone who attempts to quash their freedom of speech, INCLUDING their parents for signing away what wasn’t theirs. What’s Next Range?
I don’t think they are threatening them. From my reading of the transcript, the kids are gagged.
However, I would like to see the lawsuit that Range might bring against a child who said that Range Resources is a bunch of gasholes for giving me rashes and nosebleeds and making my mommy cry. I would buy tickets to that.
The Gasholes can come here, or wherever, and posture all they want, but NOTHING they say has any validity, until they move their family within a mile of numerous tanks and a compressor station.
If they did that for years, without making a dime off it, and said we were full of shit, then I might listen. But we all know they’d never live near one themselves. Not them, not politicians.
We tried to sit out on our patio last night, at 11 pm, but couldn’t hear each other speak …. one of the 24/7 semis was at a tank right behind us, as the driver walked around on top of the tanks with a flashlight, shining it towards us. Talk about feeling exposed. We retreated, as we always do, and turned the TV up louder over the noise.
Today, the headaches are back. Life in the gaspatch. (For those of us still living).