On Thursday night's edition of "The Colbert Report," host Stephen Colbert took on the permanent gag order placed on an entire Pennsylvania family whose health and family farm were wrecked by a nearby natural gas drilling operation. Range Resources, Inc., the company that owns the fracking well, gave the family $750,000 to relocate on the condition that no one in the family, not even the children, can ever speak about the health effects and other issues they suffered because of the well.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that "air and water contaminants caused them to experience burning eyes, sore throats, headaches and earaches." However, in order to receive their settlement money, the family had to sign an affidavit saying that they never suffered any ill effects from living so close to a fracking operation.

"Because," Colbert said, "if a tree falls in the forest and you pay the family who heard it not to talk, then it didn't make a sound."

It turns out that energy companies are paying families to stay silent about the environmental effects of fracking in at least six states.

Paying for silence, said Colbert, is catching on like tap water that bursts into flames.

The gag order even extends to the family's children, ages 7 and 10. When asked if this didn't interfere with the children's First Amendment rights, the judge who approved the settlement said, "That's a law school question, I guess."

The whole thing makes Colbert pensive. "I wish there was a way," he said, "my car could run by burning the innocence of children."

Watch the video, embedded below via Comedy Central:

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive