Colorado doctors unite against energy companies

They're refusing to sign a confidentiality agreement to honor oil and gas company trade secrets regarding chemicals used in fracking.

By Bruce Kennedy Mar 21, 2013 9:39AM

Image: Medical doctor (© John Arborgast / Photodisc Red/Getty Images)A controversy has placed Colorado doctors in opposition to oil and gas companies in the state. The issue concerns a confidentiality agreement physicians are supposed to sign that aims to protect those companies' trade secrets.

The agreement, known as Form 35, was established last year by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE), along with the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Form 35 is supposed to protect the oil and gas companies from having health professionals reveal what the form calls "the specific identity of chemicals and the concentrations thereof." And except in the case of medical emergencies, doctors would need to submit a "written statement of need" to obtain that information.

But according to the Denver Post, no Colorado doctors have put their signatures on Form 35.

"I would have very mixed feelings about signing a form that tells me I could not be proactive about sharing this information with the health department," Michael Pramenko, a family physician in Grand Junction, Colo., and former president of the Colorado Medical Society, told the newspaper. "To me, if there's a chemical in the environment and there are potentially other people being exposed, it does not make sense, from a health standpoint, to not be sharing that information."

The chemicals in question are apparently the ones oil and gas companies use as part of the controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

Energy from Shale, a project funded by the American Petroleum Institute, describes fracking as the injecting of "fracturing fluids" under high pressure into underground rock formations to break up those formations and allow the extraction of oil and natural gas. "While 99.5% of the fluids used consist of water and sand, some chemicals are added to improve the flow," according to the site. "The composition of the chemical mixes varies from well to well."

CDPHE Director Dr. Chris Urbina told the Post that Form 35 "provides appropriate guidance and permission to health care providers needed to treat their patients."

But Dr. Mitchell Gershten, based in western Colorado, calls Form 35 a "gag order."

"There are spills happening all over the state, all the time," Gershten told the Post. "This is just about transparency so that nobody is harmed and the environment is not harmed. Why does it have to be so secretive?"

More on moneyNOW

Mar 21, 2013 11:28AM
Dr. Gershten is right, Form 35 does seem like a "gag" order.  We have laws controlling environmental contaminants and petroleum companies shouldn't be exempt.
Mar 21, 2013 11:24AM
As far as I am concerned it should be public knowledge where it can and has gone into aquifers outside drilling areas. What is this area 51? Its Not a national security issue.
Mar 21, 2013 12:22PM
WHY does the Oil & Gas company get to dictate public health?? When did we give that right to them?? If there is a public health emergency then health care providers  are requred by their licence to report an issue how can a privacy document trump that?!?!?  How can a corporation demand that kind of control?
Mar 21, 2013 12:59PM
So why aren't the authors of Order 35  prosecuted on charges of creation and furtherance of a conspiracy, fined and jailed appropriately after a very public trial? Or would it be more appropriate to make them drink the water from different contaminated wells for a period up to ten years?
Mar 21, 2013 2:17PM
I was told fraking fluid was safe to drink!
Mar 21, 2013 10:03AM
This is funny...doctors wanting to be a confidential source about people's health EXCEPT when it pertains to oil company business. Right.
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