Putting A Muzzle On "Fraccidents"

By Joyce Hale

“Nondisclosure agreements and exclusivity agreements. Think like a corporation, lady. They’ve proven much better at enslaving the masses and pushing home their agenda than all of the terrorists in the history of the human race put together.”
— Joseph Lallo, Unstable Prototypes

If natural gas development is as bad as some people claim, shouldn’t we be hearing a lot about lawsuits against companies, big court settlements and reports about the damages?

For those who assume that complaints are unfounded or that there is more smoke than fire, they probably have not heard about the industry’s broad use of nondisclosure agreements. Fracking accidents are typically hidden by a veil of secrecy. Victims are legally restrained from releasing information. Individuals often unwittingly sign away their right to reveal damage when first signing their mineral lease.

Others may find themselves muzzled in order to receive any settlement for damage to property, drinking water, air pollution, explosions or impacts on human health or livestock. Nondisclosure agreements can provide justifiable privacy in some cases but not if they mask dangers to the public’s health and safety. Failure to disclose contamination of a water well may place unaware neighbors in close proximity at risk. Clusters of health problems may not be seen without accumulated data of multiple incidents. Researchers are unable to collect needed information on public health and safety when incidents are hidden from view.

Perhaps the most telling of how pervasive and extreme this practice has become is the requirement for physicians to sign nondisclosure agreements regarding patient treatment. Some chemicals used in fracking remain secret when accepted as a “proprietary” formula. Even in states, like Arkansas, which claim full disclosure of all fracking chemicals, secret formulas are not disclosed until an emergency requires medical treatment.

Even then, only the medical professional acting in the emergency can be told what the chemical is after agreeing not to reveal the identity even to the patient.

Gag orders on physicians are a cause for alarm. Out of concern for the medical and social risks this presents, an amicus brief has been filed by Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy along with many medical professionals to support newspapers demanding access to industry information.

Full disclosure also is needed in revealing the conflicts of interest that regularly occur in reports from Universities. Failure to recognize individuals having financial ties has tainted data and misled decision makers.

Secrecy enables problems to fester and grow. The public’s right to know about “fraccidents” and their causes must be established for a community’s well-being. Policy makers must see all the externalized costs of extraction before accepting the industry’s claims of economic success.
Silencing Communities: How the fracking industry keeps its secrets (AlterNet)
For Pennsylvania’s Doctors a Gag Order on Fracking Chemicals (The Atlantic)
Fracking Secrecy and Opposition from Doctors and Scientists (Earth Justice)
Fracking damage cases and industry secrecy (Earth Justice)
Can Universities Credibly Probe Gas Impacts When Industry Foots the Bill?  (New York
Times) http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/28/can-universities-credibly-probe-

Categories: Commentary