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If Fracking Is Benign, How Come PA’ers Can’t Find Out What’s Making Them Sick?

(image: Khadijah's Artworks/flickr)

Oh, my friends in Pennsylvania (I know you are my friends because “you’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania’, right?), what Tom Corbett and the Repubs in the legislature have done to you on fracking. Again.

Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information [from the drilling companies in terms of what chemicals they use], but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds.

If a company does release information about what is used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems.

A strict interpretation of the law would also forbid general practitioners and family practice physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreement and learn the contents of the “trade secrets” from notifying a specialist about the chemicals or compounds, thus delaying medical treatment.

The clauses are buried on pages 98 and 99 of the 174-page bill, which was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. New PA Law Gags Doctors

In other words, if you live in an area where fracking is taking place, and you start having symptoms which you think might have something to do with your being exposed to chemicals which might have been used in fracking, your doctor or any other doctors involved in your treatment can ask for information on chemicals that companies drilling in your area use in fracking. But they don’t have to tell anyone and in order to get that information, your doctor will have to sign a legally binding NDA which will prevent him from passing on that info. I can see the scene in the hospital or doctor’s office now….

“Well, Mrs. Murphy, I think I know what your problem is and what might be causing it.”
“Oh, doctor – what can it be?”
“Well, Mrs. Murphy, I can’t tell you that myself. Why don’t you try guessing, like in the fairy tale, ‘Rumplestilskin’?
“Oh, this is a game? Let’s see…. Is it benzene or toluene or xylene, or ethylbenzene?”
“Sorry, Mrs. Murphy – only one chemical guess at a time and you only have two guesses left…”
“Doctor, how can I be treated if no one can know what caused this?”
“Well, Mrs. Murphy, we’ll just keep throwing something at it until something sticks.”

Just a reminder for anyone who cares, but in 2005, “the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole.” Congressional Report on Fracking.

That’s for anyone feeling nostalgic about the ‘good old days’ of 2000-2008.

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Snarky housewife from Upstate New York. Into gardening, fiber arts, smallholder farming.