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David P. Smith: Fracking Gag Orders
Sunday, September 09, 2012 11:07 PM

The reported tremendous potential for producing oil through the fracking procedure could result in many changes in our country and certainly would improve our economy. While there is great potential for positive changes, we all would be well served by following a conservative approach of fully investigating and considering all possibilities because all change isn’t always good. There are at least thirty states which have active natural gas drilling occurring and about 90% of these are using fracking.

It is not doubtful to anyone about the benefits of having greater production of oil in our country and it is certainly easier and more pleasant to focus solely on these benefits. However, there are questions in many people’s minds regarding the safety issues. To be more specific, there are many questions being raised concerning health effects of the chemicals that are being used in the fracking process which can sometimes leak into the water supply. This concern is not just theoretical because there are instances in which this has occurred. Being sure what is being done in our country is of utmost importance since it is certainly crucial to have clean water.

Health problems started arising in Pennsylvania patients who had homes near drilling sites that used fracking. A Pennsylvania plastic surgeon, Amy Pare, MD, was seeing patients who had “bleeding, oozing lesions covering their faces.” Dr. Pare became suspicious and did tests which confirmed that the patients had phenol and hippuric acid in their urine; these two chemicals are rarely found in humans, but would be there if ingestion of hydrocarbons and toluene, respectively, were occurring. The patients reportedly cleared up after they quit drinking their well water. One lady in Pennsylvania, Sherry Vargson, leased her mineral rights and was recently pictured demonstrating how she can light a match causing the water to catch on fire when she turns on her kitchen faucet; methane has leached into her well water. There are many residents of northeastern Pennsylvania who have been forced into relying upon outside water now because their water is nonpotable.

Due to concern about what these physicians were seeing, many requested information regarding what chemicals were being used in the fracking process. What was discovered was much resistance to transparency to the public. Physicians in Pennsylvania and other states have been forced into signing confidentiality agreements promising that they will only use the information for patient treatment. This is effectively a “gag order”. About a dozen state laws are in place due to concerns about chemical exposures to the public from fracking. A nephrologist, Alfonso Rodriquez, MD, is challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection saying that the law is vague and violates the First Amendment rights of physicians.

The energy companies have concerns about their trade secrets of what chemical mixtures they are using being copied by other companies who haven’t invested in finding what works best for fracking. This is a legitimate concern, but it must be weighed against the health of the public. There should be complete transparency by the energy companies regarding what chemicals they are using. If they have concerns about trade secrets, they could certainly reveal all of the possible chemicals that might be used without giving specific details of their exact mixture; this is much like what is done with food products which non-specifically list their ingredients and don’t impair their ability to provide a custom-made product that they can still protect. At least the public could have some idea about what might be a problem rather than leaving everyone in the dark about their health being possibly negatively affected.

 

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