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Court Rejects Doctor’s Challenge to Pennsylvania Fracking Chemical Disclosure Law

A physician from northeast Pennsylvania who filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 challenging a state law that requires medical professionals to sign a confidentiality agreement to gain access to additives used in horizontal hydraulic fracturing has lost on appeal.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled on Monday that Alfonso Rodriguez does not have legal standing to file a lawsuit because the law has not harmed him. The appeals court called his arguments trivial and affirmed a lower court's ruling.

Rodriguez has sought to challenge Pennsylvania's omnibus oil and gas law, Act 13, which requires operators to provide doctors with information about the chemical additives they use for drilling. But a controversial aspect of the law may also require physicians to sign a nondisclosure agreement to protect trade secrets, which has prompted concerns about ethics and protection for doctors like Rodriguez, who claim they need to be able to share the information with patients and other healthcare professionals.

Rodriguez has argued that unlike other physicians, he's more likely to deal with those exposed to chemicals used by the oil and gas industry. A nephrologist, or kidney specialist, he said he had once treated an industry employee exposed to drilling fluid during a blowout.

Although his complaint was rejected, another closely watched case that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed in late 2013 is still being considered. Mehernosh Khan, a primary care physician who formerly worked in western Pennsylvania, filed a similar challenge in Commonwealth Court in 2012, which ruled that he did not have legal standing to challenge the law.

Khan’s case eventually made its way to the state’s high court in a broader challenge to Act 13. While judges struck down key parts of the law in a landmark ruling, they sent some sections of it back to lower courts for further consideration, including Khan's challenge (see Shale Daily, March 18, 2014; Dec. 20, 2013). The justices said he did have legal standing in the matter and remanded the case to Commonwealth Court.

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