Less than a week after Governor Corbett signed Act 13, The Marcellus Shale Act, in February 2012, social issues author Dr. Walter Brasch posted his seminal three-part paper FRACKING: Pennsylvania Gags Physicians on EcoWatch.org. As PA Act 13 transformed the outmoded Oil and Gas Code, Brasch shed light on the fact that Corbett's new rules compel doctors to withhold vital information from patients in their care, thereby inhibiting recovery, in order to keep the Gas Drillers’ trade secrets. The Fractivist drumbeat has been thumping on the issue ever since, and mainstream media, as well as state legislators, have taken note.
Regarding Act 13, Brasch writes:
“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.
“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."
The provision was also reported to have been added at the eleventh hour.
A Mainstream Issue
On April 11, 2012, Michael Rubinkam and Kevin Begos at the Associated Press reported on the new Marcellus law's vital flaw, and everyone from Yahoo! to The Times-Tribune to Tulsa World picked up the story.
In the AP article, Docs Say Drilling Law Hurts Health, Dr. Poune Saberi, a University of Pennsylvania physician and public health expert, states that “studies are urgently needed to determine if any of the drilling has affected human health. ‘We don't really have a lot of time,' said Saberi, who said she's talked to about 30 people around Pennsylvania over the past 18 months who blame their ailments on gas drilling.”
Begos and Rubinkam also interviewed Dr. Amelia Pare, a plastic surgeon in McMurray, southwest of Pittsburgh, who "is among the physicians clamoring for more study."
"‘All I know is people are sick, they're having spots on their face, they're not getting better, and it doesn't seem like anyone around here is equipped to help them.’"
Better Fracking Leadership
On March 23, 2012, Kate Sheppard published For Pennsylvania’s Doctors, A Gag Order on Fracking Chemicals in Mother Jones. You can find a link to Sheppard’s article on PA State Senator [D-17th] Daylin Leach’s website, votedaylin.com. Few legislators in our region have the depth and breath of Marcellus knowledge as Senator Leach.
Leach has prudently proposed a new bill that would allow doctors to share all gas drilling chemical information with their patients. On Tuesday, April 24, 2012, Primary Election Day in Pennsylvania, Leach published Unbefrackinglievable! on The Huffington Post. He comes out swinging against Corbett's "Christmas morning for Gas Driller's" law, as it is written, and suggests a clean, simple fix.
“Since the bill, as written, REQUIRES doctors to agree to confidentiality, then it would logically prohibit them from revealing the information, even to the patients they are treating, other doctors involved in the treatment, and even the insurance dude who has to approve reimbursement."
Leach goes on to point out that Dr. Marilyn J. Heine, President of the PA Medical Society, stated then later reversed her opinion of the law. "There's some ambiguity. The law isn't identifying what the limitations are,” Heine had said before endorsing the legislation. Leach maintains:
“The fact is that the bill I've introduced protecting physicians and patients reflects the law that the Corbett administration claims they want to see.”
Leach’s bill recognizes and addresses the need to reverse the gag order on Pennsylvania’s doctors under The Marcellus Shale Act. Let's hope it gains traction. At any rate, I was happy to pull the lever for Leach in Tuesday's Primaries. Surely, in Politics at least, anyone who concludes their argument with “Stay tuned...” means business.