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Drillers Pay Hush Money to Keep Their Fracking Secrets

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the art of separating oil from rock, has the potential of turning America into the world's top oil and natural gas producer.

But as with any bonanza it has some secrets oil and gas companies want to keep under wraps. And some companies are willing to put some big bucks behind that.

The industry has injected possibly carcinogenic chemical cocktails underground in more than 150,000 of wells during the fracking process.

U.S. companies have driven more than 30 trillion gallons of fracking liquid underground in the past several decades.

But not to worry: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the situation! It is solely charged with conducting long-term studies of the potential impact of fracking on water.

Feel safe?

It recently surfaced that the EPA keeps super-secret email accounts. In addition, we now know the EPA has shady ties with the vocally pro-fracking Obama administration.

Consider how the IRS has been operating under Obama.

I'd say the odds are prettttty good that the EPA hasn't been doing a whole lot of "objective research" on the environmental effects of fracking.

You might comfort yourself with the thought that there's nothing in the news about people being harmed by fracking chemicals. No real data is coming out showing that fracking taints our water.

Well, as it turns out, across the country drillers are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash settlements to silence people who say that fracking ruined their water.

In return for the hush money, they must sign non-disclosure agreements.

"At this point they [the companies] feel they can get out of this litigation relatively cheaply," said Marc Bern, an attorney with Napoli Bern Ripka Sholnik LLP in New York, who has negotiated about 30 settlements on behalf of homeowners, in an interview for Bloomberg. "Virtually on all of our settlements where they paid money they have requested and demanded that there be confidentiality."

This strategy keeps real fracking data out of the public's reach.

With no public court hearings, and no Average Joe on local news channels talking about how he can light his drinking water on fire, it's very difficult to challenge policymakers' claims that fracking doesn't cause ill-effects.

But a telling court case was recently unsealed.

In the case, private Pennsylvania citizens Stephanie and Chris Hallowich accuse fracking companies with ruining their drinking water and causing them to suffer from chronic health issues, including headaches, inflamed eyes and sore throats.

The Hallowich case was originally settled and sealed from the public with the same non-disclosure and payoff tactics I described above; defendant drillers paid the Hallowiches $750,000 in settlement in exchange for their silence.

But recent media demands caused a Pennsylvania judge to reexamine whether the case should be sealed.

The media requested that Hallowich be made public because the press has a common-law rule of access to the courts. On the other hand, the drillers argued that unsealing the case would violate their businesses' constitutional right of privacy.

Ultimately, the drillers were unable to demonstrate that opening the Hallowich case would cause harm to their trade secrets, to the privacy and reputation of innocent parties, to national security interests, or to the fairness of a trial.

The Hallowich case gives us a rare glimpse of the negative effects fracking can have on our water that drillers don't want anyone to know about.

We also get to see, first-hand, how this hush money formula typically works.

With so many settlements being reached to silence property owners across the U.S., clearly fracking must cause some ill-effects. More transparent studies should be undertaken. And not by the EPA.

Fracking is in our national interest. More domestic oil means less dollars flowing overseas to enrich potentates. But the more we know about it, the safer we can make it. Paying hush money doesn't help.

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Join the conversation. Click here to jump to comments…

  1. enthusceptic | June 11, 2013

    So right on Tara!
    Did you notice that Julia Roberts forgot to thank Erin Brockowich when she got an Oscar for that part? People like the Hallowiches should get a Nobel prize or something, and a lot more than USD 750 k, peanuts! Real heroes should not be hindered, but helped.

  2. elwood c Howell | June 12, 2013

    Obama is pro fracking???? Who says? That is 180 degrees wrong. The man is a totally into the false Al Gore global warming/Climate change hype with the phony green energy will replace carbon energy…..

  3. Dauna | June 12, 2013

    There is this amazing documentary on Fracking called Gasland and now they have Gasland II. The creator Josh Fox turned down his $100,000 offer in "HUSH" money and decided to do the Nobel thing and create these compelling and disturbing documentaries. when you see real people setting their water on fire that is coming out of their facets, you want to scream. Josh, even went to jail during the filming of the 1st one for attending a PUBLiC hearing and filming. There is a lot of shady, behavior going on when it comes to this subject. If everyone could please just. Ask yourself this simple question? Would you rather have a $1,000,000 or clean, safe, natural Water to drink, to cultivate, to wash in for us and for generations to come? For me it's a no brainier, water all the way! If we continue on this path WATER will be what we wage war over instead of oil. Do yourself, your family and your planet a favor and watch GASLAND! Get educated and spread the word.

    One more thing. There is a clean and safe way to frack (which I am all for) we just need some regulation back in place, some thoughtfulness, respect and love for our planet, then we. Can all win. Instead of hush money maybe the oil companies need to invest in safe Fracking.

    • Chuck | June 13, 2013

      I recommend watching Frack Nation instead and watch Josh Fox run from the cameras when they try to ask him about his crockementary.

  4. H. Craig Bradley | June 12, 2013


    Another example illustrating the downside of fracking might be Rifle, Colorado and the greater Garfield County area ("Gasfield County"). The gas drilling boom here predated the Bakken Shale boom in North Dakota. Gas drilling in and around Rifle, Colorado began during the George W. Bush's first term, around 2004. The boom continued for about five more years.

    Check out Goggle Earth before ( old photos in the 1990's) and then compare to afterwards to see just how many new oil platforms (pads) pockmark the landscape on and off the White River National Forest and nearby BLM lands (most of the drilling occurred on public lands). A local Game Warden with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Perry Will, wrote me in an e-mail back in 2009 " They have totally ruined all the old country around here". Perry was referring to wildlife habitat, principally big game (deer and elk). I agree, its trashed- an industrial wasteland. I previously worked for the Rifle Ranger District (Forest Service) in the early eighties and know the area well.

    What's more, some people have become sick due to the contamination of their drinking water supply or nasty particulates in the air near around their homes. One example documented in the Rifle Telegram was a couple in Newcastle, Colorado who had a drilling rig move-in close to their house. It made them so sick they had to abandon their home and move out of the area, suffering a financial loss. All the while the gas drillers were telling them their water had been tested and was o.k. (uncontaiminated).

    They had moved here from California to get away from all the development. Unfortunately, they did not know the history of Western Colorado is filled with reoccurring energy boom and busts. Past booms were usually underground mining operations. However, the most recent energy boom, gas drilling, primarily affected surface water and soil. The impact on humans was much greater this time than in past energy booms.

    • Josh | June 12, 2013

      Very true. The same thing has happened in Pennsylvania and Ohio (there's zero regulation in OH). The googlemaps images north Clearfield, PA (Moshannon State Park) are the same way.

  5. H. Craig Bradley | June 12, 2013


    Remember, Your life and health is worth infinately more than your money, investments, or your material possessions. People should respect this. Greed is the culprit here. Huge problems arise whenever people get their mutual priorities upside down.

  6. H. Craig Bradley | June 12, 2013

    Western Colorado has a history of energy boom and busts. A gas drilling boom in Garfield County, Colorado (Rifle, Colorado) from about 2004-2009 adversely affected the whole community. Lots of money came in but people also got sick in outlying areas when gas drillers moved in. Wildlife habitat was destroyed. Google Earth is a source of aerial photos which illustrate graphically what the visible on-the-ground impacts look like today and compared to pre-boom years in the 1990's. Same situation as Penn., only worse.

  7. Kenneth Glick | June 13, 2013

    Well, the hydraulic fracturing drillers certainly didn't get their hush money's worth because this is the most open secret in the world.

    All I can do is wonder if the people that were paid hush money to keep their secrets will now have to give the money back.

    • Tara Clarke | June 13, 2013

      Hi Kenneth, thanks for commenting! The Hallowiches do not have to pay the money back because they didn't break the confidentiality agreement. The court unsealed the case based on the merit of media requests and the subsequent pleadings/arguments.

  8. H. Craig Bradley | June 14, 2013


    Here are the requirements of the current Communist Chinese model (since 1949) for natural resource extraction at home and abroad:

    "All workers’ rights organizations and any independent labor unions must be banned.

    All land must belong to the state and be traded for profit by the state, state officials, and their families.

    In order to avoid criticism and monitoring, all environmental groups must be banned.

    All of the media must be controlled to ensure no victim’s voice can be heard.

    All religions must be co-opted. Individual conscience is then no longer an issue, and most of the population will accept that money is the only thing that matters.

    Last but not least, the regime needs to build enough jails and labor camps to make sure that whoever protests will be put behind bars. To be able to do that, one also needs to have a servile legal system that follows only the Chinese Communist Party's policy and totally ignores the laws.

    How many countries are able to meet the requirements for copying the China model?"

    This is President Obama's dream. As yet, he can not pull it all off, but he sure is trying real hard.

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