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Excerpt: Under a new Pennsylvania fracking law "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 new Pennsylvania fracking law gags doctors. (photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)
A new Pennsylvania fracking law gags doctors. (photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)

Pennsylvania Fracking Law Gags Physicians

By Walter Brasch, The Smirking Chimp

22 March 12


new Pennsylvania law endangers public health by forbidding health care professionals from sharing information they learn about certain chemicals and procedures used in high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The procedure is commonly known as fracking.

Fracking is the controversial method of forcing water, gases, and chemicals at tremendous pressure of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels.

Advocates of fracking argue not only is natural gas “greener” than coal and oil energy, with significantly fewer carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur emissions, the mining of natural gas generates significant jobs in a depressed economy, and will help the U.S. reduce its oil dependence upon foreign nations. Geologists estimate there may be as much as 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas throughout the United States. If all of it is successfully mined, it could not only replace coal and oil but serve as a transition to wind, solar, and water as primary energy sources, releasing the United States from dependency upon fossil fuel energy and allowing it to be more self-sufficient.

The Marcellus Shale—which extends beneath the Allegheny Plateau, through southern New York, much of Pennsylvania, east Ohio, West Virginia, and parts of Maryland and Virginia—is one of the nation’s largest sources for natural gas mining, containing as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Each of Pennsylvania’s 5,255 wells, as of the beginning of March 2012, with dozens being added each week, takes up about nine acres, including all access roads and pipe.

Over the expected life time of each well, companies may use as many as nine million gallons of water and 100,000 gallons of chemicals and radioactive isotopes within a four to six week period. The additives “are used to prevent pipe corrosion, kill bacteria, and assist in forcing the water and sand down-hole to fracture the targeted formation,” explains Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. However, about 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking operations are known carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Fluids used in fracking include those that are “potentially hazardous,” including volatile organic compounds, according to Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, a part of the federal Centers for Disease Control. In an email to the Associated Press in January 2012, Portier noted that waste water, in addition to bring up several elements, may be radioactive. Fracking is also believed to have been the cause of hundreds of small earthquakes in Ohio and other states.

The law, an amendment to Title 52 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, requires that companies provide to a state-maintained registry the names of chemicals and gases used in fracking. Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information, 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.

“I have never seen anything like this in my 37 years of practice,” says Dr. Helen Podgainy, a pediatrician from Coraopolis, Pa. She says it’s common for physicians, epidemiologists, and others in the health care field to discuss and consult with each other about the possible problems that can affect various populations. Her first priority, she says, “is to diagnose and treat, and to be proactive in preventing harm to others.” The new law, she says, not only “hinders preventative measures for our patients, it slows the treatment process by gagging free discussion.”

Psychologists are also concerned about the effects of fracking and the law’s gag order. “We won’t know the extent of patients becoming anxious or depressed because of a lack of information about the fracking process and the chemicals used,” says Kathryn Vennie of Hawley, Pa., a clinical psychologist for 30 years. She says she is already seeing patients “who are seeking support because of the disruption to their environment.” Anxiety in the absence of information, she says, “can produce both mental and physical problems.”

The law is not only “unprecedented,” but will “complicate the ability of health department to collect information that would reveal trends that could help us to protect the public health,” says Dr. Jerome Paulson, director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Paulson, also professor of pediatrics at George Washington University, calls the law “detrimental to the delivery of personal health care and contradictory to the ethical principles of medicine and public health.” Physicians, he says, “have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the health of the public, and this law precludes us from doing all we can to protect the public.” He has called for a moratorium on all drilling until the health effects can be analyzed.

Pennsylvania requires physicians to report to the state instances of 73 specific diseases, most of which are infectious diseases. However, the list also includes cancer, which may have origins not only from chemicals used to create the fissures that yield natural gas, but also in the blow-back of elements, including arsenic, present within the fissures. Thus, physicians are faced by conflicting legal and professional considerations.

“The confidentiality agreements are worrisome,” says Peter Scheer, a journalist/lawyer who is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. Physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreements and then disclose the possible risks to protect the community can be sued for breech of contract, and the companies can seek both injunctions and damages, says Scheer.

In pre-trial discovery motions, a company might be required to reveal to the court what it claims are trade secrets and proprietary information, with the court determining if the chemical and gas combinations really are trade secrets or not. The court could also rule that the contract is unenforceable because it is contrary to public policy, which places the health of the public over the rights of an individual company to protect its trade secrets, says Scheer. However, the legal and financial resources of the natural gas corporations are far greater than those of individuals, and they can stall and outspend most legal challenges.

Although Pennsylvania is determined to protect the natural gas industry, not everyone in the industry agrees with the need for secrecy. Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association, says he supports disclosing the contents included in fracturing fluids. In an opinion column published in the Denver Post, McCurdy further argued, “We need to do more as an industry to engage in a transparent and fact-based public dialogue on shale gas development.”

The Natural Gas committee of the U.S. Department of Energy agrees. “Our most important recommendations were for more transparency and dissemination of information about shale gas operations, including full disclosure of chemicals and additives that are being used,” said Dr. Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford University and a Board member.

Both McCurdy’s statement and the Department of Energy’s strong recommendation about full disclosure were known to the Pennsylvania General Assembly when it created the law that restricted health care professionals from disseminating certain information that could help reduce significant health and environmental problems from fracking operations.

Assisting on this series, in addition to those quoted within the articles, were Rosemary R. Brasch, Eileen Fay, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, and Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+40 # Scott479 2012-03-22 09:11
These gag laws are the early warning signs of a society turning fascist. Fortunately for the 1% they now have the NDAA so that the military can be legally, though unconstitutiona lly, used against us, the 99%. Funny, but I do believe our POTUS said he was a constitutional law scholar....
+36 # Valleyboy 2012-03-22 10:07
My thoughts exactly.

So much for America, the land of the free!!

And the worst thing is, governments around the world say, "America does it, so it must be OK"!

Hence fracking is coming to my country, New Zealand, which by geographical isolation and a low population happens to be one of the last relatively unpolluted countries on earth.

Fracking has also been linked to earthquakes, so it's a terrible idea in a country know as "The Shaky Isles"! Note that the local city, Christchurch is still recovering from a devastating quake and continuing aftershocks.

There is no end to the greed and stupidity of the men pushing this, they aren't loyal to any country, but to the global 1%.

We will do our bit to stop this in our own countries but America, you must stop this at the source!
+16 # Andrew Hansen 2012-03-22 10:12
Agree almost completely, my only difference would be "late" vice "early" warning signs.

Talk about death panels...
+35 # Karlus58 2012-03-22 10:14
Yes, I agree Scott. You call this a free market society? Free to market insanity without repercussions. Corporations have carte blanche authority to rain destruction upon us with the full force of "their" laws bougth and paid for by "their" lobbying of "their" congress. Where are the citizens of Pennsylvania?
+7 # motamanx 2012-03-22 11:47
Where, indeed?
+27 # John Locke 2012-03-22 11:26
Scott: This law is "Unconstitution al" it should be challenged and a restraining order put in place to stop its enforcement. It is a complete infringement of free speach. One thing that Larry Flint accomplished for his Hustler Magazine, he established the bounds of the first Amendment (it is broad) as did Jim Garrison the DA that held the trial over JFK's assasins, and who was charged with criminal defamation for critizing a public official. If I were a Doctor in PA, I would seek a restraining order stopping its enforcement...
+10 # dick 2012-03-22 10:37
Frank Rich, whom I admire, says GOPers must live inside a circular reinforcement bubble or they would not do things like this that upset the typical American. Maybe those are 'Frank's' "REAL" Americans? Because the ones that really vote keep electing bizarre GOP Reps, Governors, legislators. Most Americans in the broad "center" probably never even process these obscenities. I doubt Dems will be able to frighten Americans with ultra-bland Romney. Obama better crank up the Our Agenda vs. Their Agenda ad machine, with quotes.
+5 # John Locke 2012-03-22 11:27
Dick, its the same agenda....don't you see that
+4 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-03-22 12:52
@johnlocke, I see you got a thumbs down for this, which I cancelled out w/ my thumbs up, and I must say I am baffled by the democrat "true believers" who just keep hanging on to a partisan fantasy in face of what is as plain as day

what you have pointed out is nothing more than demonstrated reality - for those who don't think so, they might want to read the article linked below, and then ask themselves what more the current administration needs to do to meet their threshold for making a compelling case for "same agenda" (!)

(and I very much agree w/ your suggestion wrt physicians seeking restraining orders to stop enforcement of this new law in PA)

POLICE STATE USA: New Obama Executive Order Seizes U.S. Infrastructure and Citizens for Military Preparedness

By Brandon Turbeville

Global Research, March 18, 2012
+1 # John Locke 2012-03-22 14:06
thirteenthpalad in: Thank you for posting that link, I read it...Everyone here should read it!
The Die hard Obama enablers will still go down with the ship. Sadly the ship is America.
-4 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-03-22 15:31
@johnlocke: they will indeed go down with the ship, only to find, to their horrified surprise, having miserably drowned, that they themselves helped blow the cavernous holes in the hull by loyally shooting at the "miscreants and traitors" who ran to the great ship's defence

we used to call the more cynical among them "collaborators, " and the more credulous, "dupes"

we are in desperate straits here, I believe, and we have long since missed the last exit before 'destination: moment of truth'

I hear much talk of emigration these days from people of all ages, and it will surely come to that, perhaps sooner than later: escape to live freely another day, with the chance of a better life elsewhere, or stay and resist, confessing one's faith and/or conscience

we have, sadly, seen all this before; for some of us, in our own single and brief lifetime

bricks, outhouses, falling ... the hour grows late

thanks for your comments here, btw, always appreciated
+1 # John Locke 2012-03-22 18:34
thirteenthpalad in: Emigration is real and is ongoing. people who have the means are leaving the country, I understand even the Bush family bought property in Paraguay.
The Bush Family has purchased a 98,840 acre ranch through a secretive land trust in Paraguay. The ranch, which is close to the Brazillian and Bolivean border is also located in proximity to natural gas reserves and a large water reserve. Also several thousand US troops are now operating there! They should be right at home there, that was where many of the former Nazi's (Their Friends) went after the war,

I wonder why the Bushes are quietly purchasing land in Paraguay...are they fearful of an uprising here? this story is being covered by papers in Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina, but has not been in US Papers. Is this where the occupy government will be stationed, Safely in Paraguay while the Military clamp down on us?
0 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-03-29 22:25
@johnlocke, sorry to have been so slow to respond ... I did read at the link you provided, and it strikes me that wherever in the world one decides to meet the coming moment of truth, the choice on offer will be the same; and, the rubric to follow when choosing may be this:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I see from my negatives above that it is still safe to say "Nobody likes a Cassandra."

well, perhaps a few, here and there ...
+2 # KittatinyHawk 2012-03-22 20:57
So you believe we should continue voting for Corbett and GOP?
They are all evil, we need good Americans running not the squirming dems or nazis

Are you going to run?
0 # John Locke 2012-03-23 12:24
Kitt: Who are you asking?
+11 # rick 2012-03-22 10:49
There is a global concerted effort to plunder the planet and it is being done for NOTHING! There is no proof to justify destroying planet Earth, is there? LOL Plunder is groundless and will only lead to further 'breaking'. This is why the planet is melting.
+7 # John Locke 2012-03-22 11:28
Rick, maybe these people don't come from this planet?
+7 # motamanx 2012-03-22 11:46
I sometimes wonder about that. Nothing they do is beneficial, and everything they do is harmful to the planet.
+16 # Majikman 2012-03-22 11:04
This is unconscionable! It should be called the Slave Law as it allows the corporation to do as it pleases with people. For all you free marketeers and laissez-faire capitalists out there, do your children have to sicken and die before you understand and accept the concept of "common good"?
This is what a repug government does for you...death and destruction.
+13 # angelfish 2012-03-22 11:11
Silly me. I thought this was STILL the United States of America where you had Freedom of SPEECH, Freedom of and from Religion, as well as the RIGHTS to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Any Physician who abides by these INANE "laws" should lose his license for violating his Oath which includes the vow to "DO NO harm"! The Nazi/Fascists are REALLY pushing the envelope on this one! Remember fellow Citizens and Vote the Miscreants OUT in November! The People, UNITED will NEVER be defeated!
+15 # XXMD48 2012-03-22 11:15
The ammendment to Title 52 of the Pennsylvania Consolidation Statutes is nothing more then law legalizing crimes against people on behalf of financial and political interests.
+1 # KittatinyHawk 2012-03-22 20:58
Corbett and others cannot run as their pockets are so full, slime everyone
+15 # motamanx 2012-03-22 11:44
Never forget that it was Cheney that inserted the fracking laws to benefit his oil and gas buddies, and, at the same time, stymied any redress to undo those laws. Dick is really the gift that keeps on giving. Waterboarding and torture admissions are practically the least of his nefarious regime.
-2 # dick 2012-03-22 11:47
Maybe we need to do a trans-orifice ultra-sound on these guys to see what's inside their minds.

John- I have no plans to vote for Obama-Sachs. However, I do want Dems to publicly contrast their alleged agenda with that of the GOP. Hopefully, it will be educational for the long haul. Maybe Liz Warren can create a model that will pull in a better direction. 2 steps forward, 1 step back?

Can Mitt find a female running mate that will change the gender dynamic a bit?
+4 # John Locke 2012-03-22 14:09
Dick: I would be scared to use a trans-orifice ultra-sound on them, I would be afraid of the results. They may not even be human!
+12 # Regina 2012-03-22 11:50
Where in blazes are the AMA and the National Academies?? Are their leaders so entrenched as high-moneyed Republicans that they're staying mum over these incursions? Is the Hippocratic Oath now Hypocritic??? The politicians who enact these monstrosities are both ignorant and venal -- we expect, and need, better judgments from science-educate d leaders. We used to be able to trust them.
+11 # numenprof 2012-03-22 12:46
That the energy companies lobbied for this "gag" order should be transparent to any observer; they do not want to aid the eventual disclosure that they are fully aware that their process is dangerous to the national health until they've made all the profit to be had. We should not be surprised at this, such corporations have no social conscience and as "individuals" (so says the U.S. Supreme Court), we must simply accept them as the sociopaths they are. However, for the Republicans to support such a slimy cover-up (pun intended) makes them the more disgusting species. They preach Christian values while they elevate greed from the deadly sin the Bible describes to a virtue. They are proving to be the true enemies of not only our country but of all humanity.
+3 # BobbyLip 2012-03-22 13:00
Well, thank God the Republicans are alert to the danger of the Government inserting itself between me and my doctor.
+7 # noitall 2012-03-22 13:33
I guess this fits the new paradigm, punish the whistle blower, gag the doctors, shoot Paul Revere. Be afraid of and attack those who pose no threat, ignore and assist those who do. And some say that Orwell was wrong (or late); Orwell was right on! 1984 was the kick-off to where we are today.
+7 # Sally335 2012-03-22 13:34
I hope the PA medical association will band together to tell the clearly purchased legislators to do their worst. I think the citizens of PA will respond properly.
0 # KittatinyHawk 2012-03-22 21:02
Pa is a red state that depends on depression counties to not have news written. Local papers are about obits, police log...
Followers waiting for the call to jump...or vote red. Yet many here are no better they want us to vote for Romney!
+4 # John Locke 2012-03-23 09:32
Kitt: Where did you get that many here want us to Vote for Romney. I have not seen that. What I see is people here attempting to tell you there is NO difference today between a Republican and a Democrat, They are both owned by Wall Street.
My thoughts are that we need an independent party that is not controlled by Wall Street or the Oil companies. We need an American party "A Democracy Party". Not a fascist party that we now have its "The Wall Street Fascist Party" and it has two branches...Repu blican and Democrat... Both follow orders and do as they are told. Did Obama not promise he would not sign the XL Pipeline...then did he not sign the start of the XL Pipeline?
-6 # bracero 2012-03-22 16:42
I have read the legislation in question and reviewed pages 98 and 99 very carefully. No where in this document or the legislation itself are the alleged restrictions placed upon physicians and other health care professional claimed by this writer to be found. This document should be taken off RSS as by publishing it RSS is engaged in misinforming the public regarding the matter.
+4 # bostechie 2012-03-22 18:54
Read it again.
+2 # John Locke 2012-03-23 09:33
please providee the link so we can all view it
+1 # feloneouscat 2012-03-23 11:07
Bracero, since you apparently did not read the legislation, I've clipped out the relevant information (time to find it: less than 60 seconds):

"Health professional." A physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, registered nurse or emergency medical technician licensed by the Commonwealth.

(10) A vendor, service company or operator shall identify the specific identity and amount of any chemicals claimed to be a trade secret or confidential proprietary information to any health professional who requests the information in writing if the health professional executes a CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT and provides a written statement of need for the information indicating all of the following:
(i) The information is needed for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of an individual.
(ii) The individual being diagnosed or treated may have been exposed to a hazardous chemical.
(iii) Knowledge of information will assist in the diagnosis or treatment of an individual.
+1 # feloneouscat 2012-03-23 11:07
And of course the real kicker that says what happens in an emergency.

(11) If a health professional determines that a medical emergency exists and the specific identity and amount of any chemicals claimed to be a trade secret or confidential proprietary information are necessary for emergency treatment, the vendor, service provider or operator shall immediately disclose the information to the health professional upon a verbal acknowledgment by the health professional that the information may not be used for purposes other than the health needs asserted and that the health professional shall maintain the information as confidential. The vendor, service provider or operator may request, and the health professional shall provide upon request, a written statement of need and a confidentiality agreement from the health professional as soon as circumstances permit, in conformance with regulations promulgated under this chapter.
+1 # Regina 2012-03-24 01:04
....while the patient dies waiting for medical help. Funny, the pols who rail against "unnecessary" and "disruptive" regulations of their corporate operations can certainly tie the hands of health professionals into knots with "confidentialit y agreements" and other digressions from emergency treatments. And they actually refer to these demands as "regulations"! That would be funny if it weren't just plain galling.
+1 # feloneouscat 2012-03-23 11:09
This is the link (it was provided in the story, but it is awfully small)
0 # John Locke 2012-03-23 13:04
bracero: I have also reviewed the full lenghly legislation in complete detail, and I agree, THERE is no such requirement. There is a secrecy provision for disclosing by the well operator anything that is considered to be a trade secret...and upon a request of a health care provider that MUST be disclosed to them. But I read Nothing that could even be enlarged to provide what this author claims. I also bought into his propaganda until I read the whole legislation. I should have known better then to accept someone's word on such a serious claim.
0 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-03-31 13:28
@johnlocke, isn't the open question here in re the nature and reach of the required "confidentialit y agreement" - ?

some confidentiality agreements do rise to the level of de facto gag orders, as when, for example, a breach of the agreement, however wise and well-intentione d in the circumstances, could or would leave the health professional open to costly liability

btw, I have not gone directly to the document, but am basing this on feloneous cat's c&p, so perhaps this question is answered within the document

if so, I apologise, I just haven't had the time to review the legislation in full

thanks for your thoughts on this
+2 # jwb110 2012-03-22 17:53
If what this article says is true there is a Free Speech issue. I suppose that the physicians could publish their findings in other states.
+2 # KittatinyHawk 2012-03-22 21:04
Many of us can go to other Doctors as we did before, even about the poor? Guess another tactic to kill them.

Not the findings it is making Patient Aware..Right to Know trumps you Corbett
+1 # feloneouscat 2012-03-23 11:11
Doesn't work that way. What the law says is that the physician signs a non-disclosure agreement. Going to another state won't prevent them from being liable.
+7 # CL38 2012-03-22 18:14
Anyone who still insists that fascism isn't knocking on America's door and being heartily welcomed by Republicans has got to be deaf, dumb and blind.
+2 # John Locke 2012-03-23 09:35
CL38 Its not just republicans NDAA was passed by 93% of congress that included Democrats.
+2 # sheila Cee 2012-03-22 23:13
Overlooked in all these postings is that the world is suffering from shortages of water and millions of gallons are being polluted by fracking.
+2 # John Locke 2012-03-23 09:36
Sheila: Water is expected to be the next commodity that Wall Street intends to control.
+1 # RnR 2012-03-24 08:47
I think the legislator who introduced this gag order should be prosecuted (and I do mean literally with all the resources available) for unleashing a terrorist attack on the state of Pennsylvania, equating the gag order with the release of said chemicals while simultaneously withholding antidote.
+1 # Kev C 2012-03-25 18:46
One question that begs an answer. If hydraulic fracturing is so benign why all these cover all laws to stop anyone knowing what ails them? Why so much secrecy over the chemicals being used to pump down the bore holes? Why all the bullshit excuses for not telling us?
Why are so many water supplies contaminated and so many people poisoned and so many landscapes left like moonscapes?

I know the answer to all of the above.

Fracking is not safe. In fact it is highly dangerous to everyones health and future welfare.

So why is it being permitted?

To keep you all under the heel and kill you off slowly enough for big pharma to profit from your misbegotten hides for as long as is possible.

Truth is they up top, the 1% don't give a jack for you or your families.

So either you get on the case and pull the rug out as one united people or you stop winging and get used to it.
The decision is entirely yours.
As for me I am fighting already. Have been since the beginning.

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