Don’t Gag Docs!

James Dahlgren, MD - internist with a sub-specialty in toxicology and PSR-LA member.
James Dahlgren, MD – internist with a sub-specialty in toxicology and PSR-LA member.

Today, PSR-LA is launching our “Don’t Gag Docs” campaign! The purpose of the effort is to raise awareness about the big push by the oil and gas industry to have the content of the chemical cocktail used in fracking treated as a “trade secret.” We support a precautionary approach that would stop the practice of hydraulic fracturing given its impacts on our soil, air and water. Even so, we know we must work to ensure full and public disclosure of chemicals pumped into our environment and unfettered ability of doctors and public health researchers to treat, understand and track the impacts of these chemicals on our bodies.

Why is this important?

The oil and gas industry would like nothing more than to operate in California under the same veil of secrecy they have created in other states. This veil of secrecy means the industry does not have to disclose to the public what exactly is being injected into the ground when they frack an oil or gas well—including chemicals known to have significant negative health impacts. However, if we don’t know what chemicals are being used, how can we ever track those chemicals in the environment or know their impacts on our health?

Gag Doctors? That’ll never happen. Oh, Really?

The oil and gas industry has been successful in including a gag rule in other states’ fracking legislation and are hoping to do it here, too. You should take a minute to read “Legislative Interference with the Patient-Physician Relationship” which puts industry’s fracking gag rule into the broader industry/legislative efforts to interfere with patient-physician relationships in other areas including gun violence, end-of-life decisions, and abortion. In this effort, industry has convinced state legislatures to require doctors to sign a confidentiality agreement before they can access information needed to treat a patient exposed to fracking chemicals. This provision, as written, stops doctors from telling their patients what chemicals are making them sick. This gag rule would also interfere with public health research about the impacts of the chemicals used in fracking.

The less you know, the less you can show

In addition to limiting the ability of public health researchers and doctors–and therefore all of us–to understand the broader, short-term and long-term impacts of chemicals used in fracking, the oil and gas industry has also been very focused on having legislatures and regulatory agencies declare that their fracking chemical cocktails should be considered a trade secret. See the article “Fracking Fluid Suppliers Defend Trade Secrets on West Coast.” Would it surprise you to know that Halliburton is one of the leading suppliers of fracking chemicals in the U.S.? It shouldn’t. And they are.

Don't Gag Docs
Felix Aguilar, MD MPH, community clinic director in South LA and PSR-LA member, and PSR-LA staff Rebecca Bravo.

Here in California the oil and gas industry, along with allies such as Halliburton, is hard at work making sure that California falls in line with the other states that have already shielded them from disclosing adequate information for us to understand the true impacts of fracking. We see the results of these oil and gas industry efforts most clearly in the draft regulation proposed by the agency that oversees California’s oil industry, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR,” pronounced “dog-er”). Their regulation extends trade secret protection to the industry. In the legislature, SB 4 by Fran Pavley and AB 7 by Bob Wieckowski currently include language that shields the chemical cocktail by calling it a “trade secret,” too.

Similar provisions in other states have led to industry being able to routinely hide the identification of chemicals from the public. See, for example, the article “Fracking Secrets by Thousands Keep U.S. Clueless on Wells,” which explains: The 19,000 trade-secret claims made in Texas this year through August hid information that included descriptions of ingredients as well as identification numbers and concentrations of the chemicals used. Overall, oil and gas companies withheld information on about one out of every seven ingredients they pumped into 3,639 wells.

We suspect there will be significant effort to extend trade secret protections to these chemicals here in California—as state with massive amounts of oil locked under our soil.

What now?

PSR-LA will be working hard to ensure that there is full and public disclosure of chemicals pumped into our environment and unfettered ability by public health researchers to track the impacts of these chemicals on our bodies. We’ll also be working hard for a fracking moratorium until the oil and gas industry can prove that fracking will not negatively impact public health.

And one thing we know for sure: we will not support any fracking regulation or legislation that gags docs or limits public health research.

We hope you’ll join us. In fact, here’s five things you can do right now:

  1. Bookmark our site and check it often
  2. Spread the word—#DontGagDocs#fracking and like us on Facebook
  3. Donate to support our work—seriously, we’re taking on the oil and gas industry!
  4. Sign our petition
  5. If you’re a health care professional, make sure you’re a member of PSR-LA and sign up to be a Health Ambassador and help us with our Don’t Gag Docs campaign.

Click here for more information about fracking, trade secrets and California policy.

Photo credits: Eric Coleman

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