A doctor in Pennsylvania recently filed a lawsuit in federal court to have a new state law regarding hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, thrown out. The doctor, Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez, is suing the state attorney general, its secretary of environmental protection and the chairman of its Public Utility Commission because the new Pennsylvania law known as Act 13 prohibits him from discussing the health dangers of fracking with patients, other doctors, and the public. Dr. Rodriguez is a kidney specialist and is involved in the fracking issue because some of his patients require clean drinking water.
Fracking involves a drilling technique that injects millions of gallons of water mixed with various chemicals deep into the ground to break up rock and release natural gas reserves. This process has been known to result in negative environmental effects, such as contaminated drinking water. A serious concern also exists on the subject of what chemicals are used in the process and the illnesses associated with exposure to such.
While Act 13 compels natural gas drilling companies to reveal the chemicals they use when fracking to a health care practitioner whose patient is suffering from exposure to such chemicals, it also permits them to force doctors into signing confidentiality agreements before divulging the industrial composition of their fracking fluid. Drilling companies are allowed to do this by claiming the mixture of chemicals used while drilling constitutes a trade secret. The provision within Article 13 that allows this is known as the “Medical Gag Rule”. This rule can prevent a doctor from sharing the information regarding what their patient was exposed to and its effects with other doctors or the public to facilitate an understanding of what chemicals are used in fracking and the possible ailments that can result from exposure to each one. Act 13 places protecting a company’s “trade secret” regarding what toxic materials they are pumping into the ground ahead of protecting communities from the illnesses those materials can produce.