Medical muzzling: Fracking-related gag order on doctors must be changed

Medical muzzling: Fracking-related gag order on doctors must be changed by Patriot-News Editorial Board, August 19, 2012, Patriot-News
Even Gov. Tom Corbett was puzzled by the medical “gag order” in the Marcellus Shale law. “We got to take a look at that. I’m not sure how that got put in there. I don’t recall how that got in there,” the governor told a WHYY radio reporter in May. Pennsylvania needs to do more than look at it. The state should repeal this provision. The governor isn’t alone. A lot of people want to know how this language sneaked into the bill, especially since it wasn’t there until a conference committee worked on it. In other words, during the months of public debate leading up to the passage of the big Marcellus Shale bill, this issue didn’t come up, and it was not in prior versions of the bill. … On the upside, Act 13 requires companies to disclose chemicals used at specific fracking sites to doctors in cases of medical emergencies. But the problem is companies can require doctors to enter into confidentiality agreements before releasing the information. The argument is that some chemicals and the quantities used are “trade secrets.” … Dr. Alfonso Rodriquez of Dallas, Luzerne County, is challenging the gag order in court. He’s a kidney specialist who has already treated an industry worker. He’s concerned that the law forbids him from speaking openly with his patients. Equally troubling is that it might hamper research doctors could do on people living in the Marcellus Shale region. … This whole issue would be moot if the industry fully disclosed what it uses at each fracking site. But it doesn’t. The industry created the website FracFocus as a chemical disclosure registry, but as Bloomberg News reported last week, it only lists the fracking materials at about two out of every five wells drilled since the site began in April 2011. … In Pennsylvania, drillers are now required to file reports with the Department of Environmental Protection on the chemicals used at each drilling site. But at the moment, DEP does not have the resources to put those reports online. People must file Right to Know requests for them, and some chemicals can still be withheld if they are labeled as “trade secrets.”

[Refer also to: Confidentiality Agreements, The Problem: Confidentiality agreements in lawsuit settlements can be harmful, even deadly, to the public ]

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