Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking): Health Effects and Disclosure of Proprietary Information

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) involves the injection of toxic chemicals into the ground to liberate oil and natural gas deposits. Numerous chemicals used in fracking are known to cause serious health effects including cancer,1 and due to accidents or poor construction, these chemicals have been found in personal water wells, ground water, and in the soil.2 Further, many chemicals used in fracking are protected as proprietary information and may not be publicly disclosed. This becomes important to family physicians when a patient presents with suspected exposure to these chemicals, and the treating physician and their medical staff are not privy to the chemical makeup of the exposed solution. Further, some states have enacted legislation that makes it arduous for physicians to obtain chemical makeup for treatment purposes. In those instances, when the chemical composition of fracking fluid is obtained, physicians may be prevented from disclosing this information to their patients and other health care providers following regulations imposed in several states.3 Therefore, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) strongly advocates for rigorous research into the effects of fracking on human health and the environment. The AAFP also strongly opposes any state or federal legislation that prohibits disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process and legislation that may interfere with physicians disclosing said information to their patients and public health officials.

References:

  1. Colborn T, Kwiatkowski C, Schultz K, and Bachran M. 2011. Natural gas operations from a public health perspective. Hum Ecol Risk Assess, 17(5):1039-56.
  2. Bamberger M and Oswald RE. 2012. Impacts of gas drilling on human and animal health. New Solut. 22(1): 51-77.
  3. Weinberger SE, Lawrence HC, Henley DE, Alden ER, Hoyt DB. 2012. Legislative interference with the patient-physician relationship. N Engl Med. 367: 1557-1559.

(2015 COD)