Gag Reflex: Big Gas Tries To Get Kids To Shut The Frack Up

Do not be outraged by this story of a Pennsylvania family whose settlement with Range Resources, the fracking company that (allegedly) "contaminated their water supply and caused burning eyes, sore throats and headaches," includes a lifetime gag order on their children, aged 7 and 10 at the time of the settlement. OK, you can be a little bit outraged, as it's less than awesome that this family had to move because their property is (allegedly) unfit for human habitation, and who knows what long-term health effects they'll all suffer, and doesn't the $750,000 they got from the fracking company seem kinda low? All that sucks, totally. But the lifetime gag order on these two kids whose ages didn't even add up to one adult is actually terrific, and here's why:

First and most importantly, the gag order probably isn't legally enforceable. It's one of those rare times when your gut reaction of "Holy hell there's NO GODDAMN WAY that is legal!" actually aligns with the jurisprudential reality. There isn't much case law on the subject, but apparently parents can't sign away their kids' rights forever, except to Scientology.

There's also the fact that because of this bizarre provision we are now reading about how Range Resources, a hydraulic fracturing company in Pennsylvania, has agreed to pay $750,000 to a family whose lives they (allegedly) ruined on the condition that they don't embarrass Range Resources any further by talking about them or what they do, ever again. Does this make you wonder if perhaps fracking isn't as safe as everyone says? Maybe! We are not knowers of science, but that's the sense we're getting from this six-figure settlement that probably doesn't involve Range Resources admitting any responsibility for what happened, because legal fictions.

If Range Resources had a do-over, they probably would not ask for this draconian and unenforceable lifetime gag order on the children that has transformed a routine legal matter into an international news item. Which brings us to our third, most abstract point. You know those idiots who read Atlas Shrugged in high school and abruptly stopped thinking too deeply about how the world actually works? You know how they're actually, like, a factor in politics now? You know how they love talking about how "rational self-interest" is all the regulation we really need, because freedom? Well, here we have a fine example of a company pursuing its rational self-interest: Let's try to make these kids shut up about fracking, less people talking about fracking is better for us, right? THAT DID NOT GO SO WELL, DID IT?

It's almost as though groups of (allegedly) intelligent people who run big corporations can do things that on the surface appear to be in their rational self-interest, but WHOOPS it turns out they were wrong! Are we saying rich people are fallible? Yes, unless someone wants to pay us a quarter million dollars not to. Any takers?

[ Guardian / FindLaw ]


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