In Pennsylvania, a new state law requires drilling companies to tell doctors what chemicals they are pumping into the ground in order to extract natural gas. Doctors need to identify the chemicals so they can diagnose and treat patients who have been exposed.
But there is a catch. Because the companies deem the chemical ingredients they are injecting into people’s backyards to be “proprietary secrets,” the law imposes a gag on doctors, meaning they are forbidden from telling anyone, including their own patients and other health professionals, what chemicals are causing the sickness.
In recent months, similar laws have been passed in Colorado, Texas and Ohio.
Pennsylvania’s landscape is pockmarked with over 5,000 oil and gas drilling wells, with more being added each week. Clusters of people are getting sick around the drilling wells.
Recent advances in hydraulic fracturing technology—“fracking”—have opened up vast new areas in Pennsylvania to drilling, prompting oil companies to rush in and the rate of drilling to soar. Fracking involves blasting millions of gallons of toxic chemical solutions into the ground to free up gas deposits. Even low levels of human exposure to fracking fluids can cause sickness; 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking are known carcinogens.
The “doctor gag rule,” buried in the middle of a 174-page bill, requires health professionals to sign confidentiality agreements stating they will not share with anyone the names of the chemicals that are making people sick. Without the ability of health professionals to share information, the treatment of diseases and protection of public health could be seriously compromised.
According to the logic of capitalism, it is more important to protect the “proprietary secrets” of oil and drilling companies than to protect public health.
At a federal level, instead of forcing drilling companies to disclose the chemicals they are injecting into the ground, the Obama administration “is requesting” them to “voluntarily” submit the information, a request the oil companies are simply ignoring.
Under capitalism, the government’s role is to manage the affairs of the capitalist class, which is why the Obama administration is allowing tens of thousands of people to be placed in harm's way without even the pretense of a struggle.