Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Disclosure requirements and chemical injuries caused by fracking

In February, Pennsylvania legislators passed a bill that changed natural gas drilling law. Part of that new law, called Act 13, allows doctors to ask gas drilling companies what chemicals they are pumping into the ground. Drilling companies must provide this information to those doctors. This was a requirement created to allow doctors to treat patients who could be suffering from illnesses caused by exposure to chemicals.

Unfortunately for patient safety, doctors are required to sign confidentiality agreements, which force them to keep the information they receive confidential. Doctors are arguing that this requirement could negatively affect their ability to treat some patients and would prevent them from sharing vital information with other doctors who may be treating patients similarly injured.

According to the medical community, the confidentiality language is not clear. The language states that the information is proprietary and "may not be used for purposes other than the health needs asserted," and "the health professional shall maintain that information as confidential."

Patrick Henderson, the Governor's energy executive who helped develop the legislation, claims it should not be construed as a restrictive clause, as some are interpreting it to be. "This statute provides unfettered access for professionals to access the information they need to collaborate with their colleagues and share that information with their patients," he said.

Since none of these cases has arisen in Pennsylvania, everything is simple speculation. Yet, the continuous expansion of natural gas drilling means that it is only a matter of time before someone claims an injury caused by the chemicals released from fracking.

Source: NPR, State Impact, "Fracking Disclosure: Colorado's Compromise Is Pennsylvania's Controversy," Scott Detrow, June 7, 2012.

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