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Lawmaker: Drilling Foes Spreading Hysteria Over Act 13

Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith (R-Punxsutawney) accused opponents of shale gas drilling of spreading misinformation about Act 13, calling their claims that the law's language on chemical disclosure would prevent doctors from treating their patients "outrageous."

"Doctors will be able to provide all of the information needed to discuss any patient ailment," Smith said Thursday. "It is outrageous to think, let alone for anyone to portray, that the state would actually 'gag' a doctor in treating a patient. It is irresponsible for an organization to try and create such hysteria."

At issue are portions of Section 3222 of Act 13 that list the circumstances where disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are required and not required.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) both said they supported the language contained in HB 1950 before it was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett and became Act 13 in February (see Shale Daily, Feb. 15; Feb. 13). Smith said the law was modeled on similar legislation used in Colorado.

"The new law explicitly requires fracking chemical information be disclosed to medical professionals so that they may provide treatment should the need ever arise," Smith said. "We thought this was a good, proactive approach. Now Pennsylvania has the most progressive hydraulic fracturing disclosure law in the nation. It is designed for transparency and access, and it provides unfettered access to physicians or other medical professionals who need information to treat their patients."

The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) also condemned what it called "a host of bogus claims" surrounding the disclosure provisions of Act 13.

"Some detractors of responsible American natural gas development have proven once again that they will stop at nothing to skew the facts by resuscitating tired, debunked scare tactics in a concerted effort to inflame negative public opinion," the MSC said on April 9. "In the event of an emergency and for purposes of diagnosing a patient, medical professionals have unfettered access to all information related to additives, chemicals or any other constituent at a natural gas site...However, this information must be used for its intended use: patient care."

In a statement in late March, the PEC said concerns had been raised over the issue and indicated that others were characterizing the law as a gag order on the medical community, but the group didn't appear to share that view exactly.

"The language provides a mechanism to ensure that medical professionals can quickly get direct access to chemical information for which trade secret protections have been claimed in cases where it's needed for diagnosis or treatment of a patient," PEC said. "As part of the process, companies can require a confidentiality agreement when circumstances permit, but the law ensures that medical professionals can get the information first.

"Our understanding is that without such language, there's nothing to guarantee that a doctor will be able to compel companies to turn over trade secret information quickly or even at all."

PEC said it supported discussion on the issue, and if the medical community believed Act 13 was too restrictive, then the law needed to be changed.

Jerry Silberman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), said the union considered the law a gag order.

"To say that it's not a gag order is disingenuous in the extreme," Silberman told NGI's Shale Daily on Friday. "The Act very clearly states that in an emergency situation, the doctor will be given information on the chemicals that were used in the fracking process, provided that they give verbal, followed by written, commitment not to divulge these to anybody. And in a non-emergency situation, the company has no obligation to provide information at all, other than what they provide at their own discretion publicly.

"Our position as a union is that part of the Act is unethical and that our members, if necessary, would violate it. You can't treat a patient and not tell them what's wrong with them."

According to the Houston-based law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP, as of March 2 laws in only five other states -- Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana and Texas -- require natural gas companies to disclose information on fracking fluids to health care personnel in the event of an emergency, regardless of any other information protections.

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