“Sealed Record”: Julia Kasdorf’s poetry from the Marcellus Shale

October 9, 2015 | 0 comments

This poem, “Sealed Record,” is Julia Spicher Kasdorf’s third poem for our series supplementing the Penn State Reads book, Russell Gold’s The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. Kasdorf is an award-winning poet and a Professor of English at Penn State since 2001. You can read her poems, “A Mother on the West Virginia Border Considers the Public Health” and “F Word” as well. We will post one more of her poems next week.

A few questions for discussion follow the poem.

Sealed Record

You’re both aware that in exchange for the sum of $750,000, you have given up all rights that you may have against all of the defendants in this case now and forever.



You understand that in exchange for that sum, you are required to turn over your home to the defendants in exchange for which you will be able to buy a new home?



Do you understand that by this agreement each of you have been subjected to a confidentiality agreement, which is in essence, a gag order?  You are not to comment in any fashion whatsoever about Marcellus Shale/fracking activities, and you accept that?

Unfortunately, yes.


You both understand and accept that as written the settlement agreement may apply to your children’s First Amendment rights as well?



And you accept that because you, as adults and as legal guardians and parents of these children, believe it is in the best interests of not only them but your family?

Yes, and health reasons.  We needed to do this in order to get them out
of this situation.


You understand Stephanie, regardless of what may be said about you on the Internet and blogs, you cannot respond and you will not respond?




One last question.  You understand that this record has also been requested to be sealed and that you have consented to it being sealed, which means that no one from this point forward will ever be able to review this record or have any understanding of what has happened here today?


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.  We know we’re signing for silence forever,
but how is this taking away our children’s rights?  I mean, my daughter is turning 7 today, my
son is 10.

Frankly, your Honor, as an attorney, I don’t know if it’s possible to give up the First Amendment’s rights of a child.  The defense has requested that be a part of the petition as worded.  I will tell you we objected, but it was a take it or leave it situation.   I have told them in an abundance of caution, and to protect my law firm, because I don’t feel like having someone coming around when they turn 18 and saying, “Look what you did to me.”

Does defense counsel have any comment for the record?

The plaintiffs are defined as the whole family.  That’s the way the contract
has been written.  That’s what we agreed to.

Your honor, as they have indicated, it is directed at the family, and these two minor children are part of the family.  I have practiced 30-some years.  I’ve never seen a request like this nor in my research, but they have made a choice, and

So noted.

That’s all I can say.  And Chris, I don’t have an answer for you or Stephanie other than what I’ve already told you.

Nor does the court have an answer for you, and I would agree with counsel
that I don’t know.  That’s a law school question, I guess.

Our position is that it does apply to the whole family.  We would certainly
enforce it.

Right, and candidly, you as the parents, are bound by it.

If I may, no matter where we live, they’re going to be amongst other children
that are children of people in this industry, they’re going
to be around it every single day of their life.  If they say one of the
illegal words when they’re outside our guardianship, we’re going to
have difficulty controlling that.  We can tell them they cannot say this,
they cannot say that, but if on the play ground

So noted.

You will do and you have accepted to do, the best you can as parents to prevent that from happening.


From the transcript of sealed, inchambers proceedings before Honorable Paul Pozonsky, Judge, Aug. 23, 2011, Court of Common Please of Washington County, PA, Civil Division. Stephanie Hallowich and Chris Hallowich, Plaintiffs.  Range Resources Corp; Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream; Markwest Energy Partners, LP; Markwest Energy Group, LLC; and PA Dept. of Environmental Protection, Defendants.  The Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Observer Reporter filed petitions to intervene and motions to unseal the transcript, and in January 2013, Judge  O’Dell Seneca unsealed the transcript on the grounds that corporations do not have the same rights to privacy as individuals.

This poem reveals “the transcript of sealed, inchambers proceedings” regarding the gag order placed on the Hallowich family, an agreement made with Range Resources, other companies and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. How does the poem’s visual form, spacing and font changes affect the content? How do you know who is speaking?

“Penn State’s definition of sustainability is “the simultaneous pursuit of human health and happiness, environmental quality, and economic well being for current and future generations.” Sustainability is therefore important to families. In “Sealed Record,” in “A Mother on the West Virginia Line Considers the Public Health,” a previous post by Jenny Lisak and the experiences of John Trallo (Chapter 10 of The Boom) address Pennsylvania families. How do gag orders affect the conduct of a sustainable democracy? For example, if the Hallowich children are no longer allowed to speak on Marcellus shale, will they be allowed to write or speak to public officials or create graphic art related to the subject? How much of their expression is gagged?

The poem’s epilogue states that “Judge O’Dell Seneca unsealed the transcript on the grounds that corporations do not have the same rights to privacy as individuals.” What questions do you have about the rights of corporations and individuals? How do the rights of corporations and individuals play out in Gold’s narrative in The Boom?

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