Does Fracking Settlement's Gag Order Apply to Kids?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on August 02, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two young children appear to be under a lifetime "gag order" when it comes to fracking activities and a shale formation near their home in Pennsylvania. The order stemmed from their parents' settlement in a high-profile lawsuit over an underground deposit known as the "Marcellus Shale" in western Pennsylvania.

It's not uncommon for fracking settlements to require plaintiffs to keep mum about details. But insisting on applying the nondisclosure agreement to the kiddies, too? That's pretty weird.

Weird it may be, but is it legal?

What the Frack?

When nearby fracking operations were damaging Stephanie and Christopher Hallowich's home in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, the couple filed a nuisance lawsuit against driller Range Resources in August 2011, reports StateImpact.

The family was vocal about the hazards of fracking, alleging it was ruining their home, making their land unsellable, and threatening their health.

The drillers paid the family $750,000 so they could move -- but in return, Range Resources wanted complete confidentiality.

The parents, who were desperate to move, reluctantly agreed to a lifetime gag order that not only prevented them from ever discussing the Marcellus Shale and fracking, but also extended to their children.

At the time of the settlement, the children were 7 and 10 years old.

Confidentiality From Minors?

Generally, minors can enter into contracts, but such contracts are voidable in most cases before the minors reach majority age. Still, it is pretty rare for a confidentiality agreement to apply to minor children.

Very little case law exists on the topic. In fact, the family's lawyer said this was the first time he'd seen it in more than three decades of law practice, reports StateImpact.

Since they're children, they most likely can't be bound by the lifetime gag order, as it's a type of contract. If that's the case, and the issue comes before a court, then the court will likely deem it unenforceable and the kids will be free to speak their mind on fracking all the live-long day.

Range Resources has been getting a lot of flak over the whole kiddie confidentiality ordeal. Naturally, the company is now back-tracking on its fracking gagging clause, insisting the gag order applies only to the parents.

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