Just The Facts: Pa.’s Shale Regulations Ensure Health, Safety

Over the weekend, the Associated Press published a story with the headline “Expert: Pa. didn’t address fracking health impacts.” The “expert” at the center of this story is Dr. Eli Avila, Pennsylvania’s former department of health secretary, who departed the agency in the fall of 2012.

It’s important to understand the context of his current claims relative what he has stated previously. For example, Dr. Avila wrote this in a April 2012 Chambersburg Public Opinion letter to the editor:

  • The Department of Health is not aware of any evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing practices have a negative impact on our residents’ health. However, we will continue our due diligence as the state’s public health officials to ensure that all environmental health concerns reported to the department are investigated thoroughly. The health and safety of Pennsylvanians is our top priority.”

Furthermore, in a letter dated April 17, 2012 to the president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, Dr. Avila wrote this about Act 13 and the transparent nature of the bipartisan law:

  • “Act 13 contains the most progressive disclosure requirements in the nation related to the chemicals and composition of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process. … One of the strong benefits of Act 13’s disclosure requirements is its proactive approach to ensuring that health professionals have access to all information they may need to provide care for their patients. Unfortunately, mischaracterization of the non-disclosure agreement has led to some confusion within the public health community that a health professional’s ability to care for their patients may be impeded. I assure you that this is not the case.
  • “Under Act 13, if a health professional believes that access to specific proprietary or confidential information – above and beyond that information that is already available in the public domain – is necessary to care for a patient, they are entitled to receive it. Inherent to their right to receive this information is the ability to share the information with the patient, with other physicians and providers including specialists assisting or involved with the care of the patient. … This replicates the process that has existed for decades under the federal Occupational Health and Safety Act and the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
  • “I believe Act 13 provides the important tools necessary to properly care for patients, including full consultation with the patient and others associated with the patient’s care.

Dr. Avila’s letter was positively received by the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which responded with these comments:

  • “We are gratified by the strong public assurances from the Department of Health, Speaker Smith and House Majority leader Mike Turzai that their intent in drafting the law was for physicians to be able to speak freely with their patients, other health care providers involved in the care of their patients, and appropriate public health officials. Those statements clearly demonstrate their commitment to the health and welfare of all Pennsylvanians.
  • “As the unconventional gas drilling industry matures in Pennsylvania, and our understanding of this technology evolves, we’re confident that the administration and legislature will continue to be responsive to physicians’ concerns for protecting patient health and preserving the patient-physician relationship.”

To be sure, there is no higher industry priority than the health and safety our employees, contractors and the communities where we operate. As game-changing supplies of clean natural gas continue to be safely produced to meet our growing energy needs, air quality is sharply improving. And moreover, Pennsylvania’s forward-leaning and modernized regulatory framework – which has received national recognition – helps ensure that safety and health of all Pennsylvanians is not only protected, but is also enhanced.