Putting A Muzzle On “Fraccidents”

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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


AP October 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm

It is easy to make accusations when you don’t have to back them up with anything. The very small percentage of fracking fluid contents that are protected from disclosure in Arkansas are protected by federal law as trade secrets. The Arkansas regulation merely recognizes that fact and incorporates the same protection as federal law. Arkansas has a full disclosure law, but the precise formula of the proprietary components is not required to be revealed. However, the chemical family is revealed and its general properties are available. What is protected is the “recipe” that would allow another company to duplicate the precise formula that the fracking company used to make its product. This is no different than many commercial products that do not disclose exactly how they are made. It makes sense that a company shouldn’t be required to give its formula to other companies – that would be unfair competition.
If there are bona fide instances of water contamination, which this article suggests are all kept secret by court settlements or something, how did that happen? If a landowner has a water well contamination problem, do they contact a lawyer or contact the environmental agency? People with real problems, who actually want something done, would want to contact the environmental agency. Nothing the environmental agencies do is secret. How are the companies burying all of that information in the public agency records – they aren’t. People without bona fide problems who just want to sue a company to try and get rich quick, don’t care anything about the true content of their water or how clean it is – the just want a big payday. It is not unusual for settlements in all kinds of lawsuits to come with a confidentiality agreement – whether it is a fracking case or a car accident. There are many reasons for that, but one of the primary reasons is that many cases settle based on the cost of defending the litigation, which can be very expensive, even if the claims have no merit. Publicizing the fact that plaintiffs with claims that lack any truth or merit have received money to go away (often referred to as a “nuisance settlement”) only encourages other similar cases.

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