Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Have You Talked to Your Doctor About Fracking?

Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers

Pediatrician Wilma Bausas examines Jonathan Valdez, 2, in El Paso, Texas in 2000.

In December, Texas enacted fracking disclosure rules, which require drilling companies to itemize what chemicals they use in the hydraulic fracturing process. Any well that got a permit from February 1, 2012 on has to make the disclosure on the website FracFocus.org.

But there was an exception for “trade secrets,” chemicals that are part of a proprietary mix for each company that they don’t want others to find out about.

And then there was another exception to that exception. If, say, someone winds up in the emergency room after being exposed to frac fluid, a doctor can find out from the company what those trade secret-exempt chemicals are.

And… wait for it… there’s an addendum to that. Doctors who learn what exactly those trade secret fracking chemicals are have to follow a “gag rule.” They have to sign a form with the drilling company saying they’ll keep those chemicals confidential.

As Scott Detrow reports for our fellow StateImpact site in Pennsylvania today, that “gag rule” went through very quietly in the Lone Star State, but has been making waves in the East.

From Detrow’s report:

“In Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio, med­ical pro­fes­sion­als have voiced con­cern the restric­tions would inter­fere with their abil­ity to treat patients and share infor­ma­tion with peers. But the Texas Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion endorsed the Lone Star State’s new rules. And of the hun­dreds of pub­lic com­ments filed in response to Colorado’s reg­u­la­tions — nearly all of them crit­i­ciz­ing the rule as weak —  just six peo­ple men­tioned the doc­tor nondis­clo­sure lan­guage. Not a sin­gle major Col­orado or Texas news­pa­per men­tioned the doc­tor lan­guage in its cov­er­age of the states’ new dis­clo­sure standards.

The wide range of reac­tions under­scores how dif­fer­ently the pol­i­tics of reg­u­lat­ing frack­ing is play­ing out from state to state. What was praised as a rea­son­able com­pro­mise in Col­orado has been demo­nized as an indus­try give­away in Pennsylvania.”

Detrow also notes that the amounts of chemicals in question are likely very small. “99 per­cent of frack­ing fluid is made up of water and sand,” he writes, and “in the grow­ing num­ber of states with dis­clo­sure reg­u­la­tions and laws, com­pa­nies are required to dis­close the major­ity of that remain­ing one percent.” But a fraction of that one percent falls under the trade secret exemption, and that’s what has some physicians in Pennsylvania and Ohio worked up.

To learn more about why, you can read the full story over at StateImpact Pennsylvania. 


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