In communities affected by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” people understand that this process of drilling for natural gases puts the environment and their health at risk. In February 2013, legislators in Pennsylvania—a state on the forefront of a national debate over fracking—passed a law that requires oil companies to disclose the identity and amount of chemicals used in fracking fluids to health professionals who request the information so that they can diagnosis or treat patients who may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals. However, as Kate Sheppard reported for Mother Jones, a provision in the new bill requires those health professionals to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that they will not disclose that information to anyone else—not even their own patients. The companies deem the chemical ingredients used in the process as “proprietary secrets.”
The crucial provision gagging doctors was added after the bill was introduced, so many lawmakers did not recognize the broad, problematic alterations to the proposed law. Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach told Mother Jones, “The importance of keeping it as proprietary secret seems minimal when compared to letting the public know what chemicals they and their children are being exposed to.”
An addendum to the Mother Jones report noted that Patrick Henderson, the energy executive for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, said that others’ interpretation of the law is inaccurate. Doctors will still be allowed to share information with their patients. However, Kate Sheppard reported, “the actual terms of the confidentiality agreements have not yet been drafted, and there seems to be pretty wide confusion in the state about what exactly the bill as signed into law would mean.”
Under the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has pressed oil companies to voluntarily provide information about fracking fluids, but the industry has largely rebuffed those appeals.
Pennsylvania Law Gags Doctors to Protect Big Oil’s “Proprietary Secrets”
Kate Sheppard, “For Pennsylvania’s Doctors, a Gag Order on Fracking Chemicals,” Mother Jones, March 23, 2012, http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/03/fracking-doctors-gag-pennsylvania.
Christopher Banks, “Pennsylvania Law Gags Doctors,” Liberation News, June 13, 2012, http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/pennsylvania-law-gags-doctors.html.
Student Researcher: Lyndsey Casey (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)