A Luzerne County physician claims in a federal lawsuit that Pennsylvania's new oil and natural gas drilling law will force him to violate ethical rules in treating his patients.
If someone were to be exposed to - and potentially sickened by - fluids used in the extraction of natural gas through the process known as hydraulic fracturing, kidney specialist Alfonso Rodriguez said in court documents, the law's confidentiality requirements would compromise his ability to discuss what chemicals the patient had been exposed to.
Rodriguez frequently treats such patients, including well workers exposed to fluids in a blowout, said his attorney, Paul A. Rossi of Kennett Square.
"He is the doctor fracking-fluid exposees go to. It's not hypothetical that he's going to need to make use of this law," Rossi said. "He may have to go to the gas companies to get information on an ongoing basis."
Because of the vagueness of the law, he said, Rodriguez has hired an attorney to draft a letter to his patients notifying them that "his ethical obligation to communicate with them may be curtailed."
The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Scranton, asks that the medical provisions of the law, known as Act 13, be suspended until the state drafts regulations to clarify the matter.
The suit names as defendants state Attorney General Linda Kelly, Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer, and Public Utilities Commission Chairman Robert Powelson.
Spokesmen for all three said that the suit was under review and that they could not comment. A call to the doctor's office Wednesday was returned by his lawyer.
Rodriguez is president of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, a group of residents in northern Pennsylvania who are concerned about the fast growth of the industry, said Rossi, who has acted as the group's attorney.
The medical provisions of Act 13 were added shortly before its passage in February. Almost immediately, the medical community began expressing concerns about what it called a "gag law."
State officials have said that those provisions were designed to remove roadblocks, not create them.
Whether they do that, however, has been vigorously debated. "All we have right now is an overly broad, very vague restriction of speech," Rossi said.
Shortly after the law took effect in April, State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) introduced legislation aimed at clarifying the rights and responsibilities of health-care professionals.
"The act is silent on a number of issues, the most important being with whom a physician can share information, even if there is a possible public-health risk at stake," Leach said at the time. "I hope to better clarify the language of the act in order to protect all parties involved."
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