Hydraulic Fracturing, or “fracking,” pumps millions of gallons of water and sand—mixed with thousands of gallons of chemicals—into underground rock formations to release oil and gas deposits. In 2010, the LA Times reported that there were more that 3,000 active oil and gas wells in Los Angeles County. There are plans to drill thousands more as oil prices remain high and advances in technology allow the combination of drilling and fracking to extract oil much more cheaply than in the past
In communities across the country, people have reported a range of health and environmental impacts from fracking, ranging from respiratory infections and rashes to miscarriages, benzene poisoning and cancer.
Here in Los Angeles more attention is being focused on the health and environmental impacts of urban oil extraction. For example, in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles there is a massive oil field adjacent to thousands of homes where residents have highlighted many of the issues faced by communities near drilling operations. Also, people living in the Figueroa Corridor, just south of downtown Los Angeles, whose homes are adjacent to a small densely packed drilling site, have reported health and environmental problems as well, including adult onset asthma, headaches, and chronic bronchitis. They also report bad odors—everything from the smell of gas to sickly sweet smells–emanating from the oil production in their neighborhood.
As a result of the experience with fracking in other states and here, there is now increased focus on oversight of California’s drilling and fracking activities. Despite the extensive scope of oil extraction operations in the state, California has very little regulatory control over the activity generally or fracking in particular. Therefore, a new regulation has been proposed by California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) related to fracking activity.
California considers new regulations that include a doctor gag rule
DOGGR’s proposed regulation labels the thousands of gallons of the chemical mixture injected into the ground during the fracking process a “trade secret.” Although little is known about the mixture because of the industry’s trade secret claims, the little information that is known shows that this mixture—often called a “chemical cocktail”—is filled with chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, ethylene glycol, and glutaraldehyde. These substances are known to have toxic effects on humans ranging from cancer to harm of the reproductive, neurological, and endocrine systems.
As “trade secret” information, the “chemical cocktail’s” contents are—well—secret. The DOGGR proposed regulation does include a provision to make information about chemicals used in fracking operations available to physicians and emergency medical technicians, but only through a written application to whatever company has claimed that the mixture is a “trade secret” and if, and only if, the health professional, agrees to “execute a confidentiality agreement and provide a written statement of need…” That confidentiality agreement prohibits disclosing the information to anyone else, including consulting physicians, other members of the medial team, even the patient!
Further, under this regulation there is no way to identify, track, understand, and address any public health impacts of the newly-expanded practice of fracking over time and across the state. This would completely undermine our system for medical and public health research, training, and preventing of harm to human health and the environment.
What you can do
Tell Mark Nechodom, the Director of California’s Department of Conservation—which includes DOGGR as a division—that you reject government imposed gag orders on health professionals and the gutting of the public health research infrastructure by doing one or more of the following:
1) Sign our letter to Mark Nechodom that reads:
“We reject a government imposed gag order on health professionals. It is the duty, responsibility, and privilege of all health professionals to engage patients in every step of their care, including talking with them about chemicals to which they have been exposed. Communication is always better than silence.
We reject government imposed ignorance. Public health and other researchers must be able to collect and analyze data related to fracking, the chemicals used, and the emissions related the oil drilling and fracking process. Without data, none of us can know whether fracking has impacts on public health and the environment. Science is always better than secrets.
A regulation that prevents communication and science is bad policy and a bad idea.”
2) Contact Angela Johnson Meszaros at PSR-LA to discover other opportunities for engaging in our efforts to ensure that fracking does not threaten public health. Angela can be reached via e-mail or phone at 213-689-9170.