I did an interview with RT discussing the growing problems that chemicals used in fracking oil & natural gas pose to the environment and public safety. First, the Associated Press reports that there have been hundreds of complaints of water pollution from fracking, most from methane but some from the chemicals used in fracking. But this AP report only tells half the story, as it simply documents the different ways in which states handle and record complaints when folks call in to a hotline or send an email. That’s good info, but not nearly as important as sending scientists to investigate the complaint. And there’s the rub: when confirmed fracking pollution occurs, oil & gas companies quickly settle with the affected landowners, and, in return for providing cash and drinking water supplies, force families to sign non-disclosure agreements, forbidding them from even acknowledging that fracking pollution ocurred, or in some cases, requiring families to sign statements proclaiming that pollution didn’t occur. We challenged Jack Gerard on this point when he spoke at our offices earlier this year, and he denied knowing anything about these common non-disclosure agreements. In one famous case, the natural gas company forced parents to guarantee that their two young children would never speak about fracking pollution on their farm for the rest of their lives. The proliferation of these non-disclosure agreements distorts the policy debate because they interfere with the collection of data needed to draw conclusions about the saftety of fracking. It is unacceptable for the industry to continue to say “Fracking is safe, evidenced by the lack of water contamination proof!” at the same time they’re forcing familes to give up their right to talk about pollution (or in same cases, forcing the families to lie in order to qualify for the financial compensation). A simple solution is to disallow non-disclosure agreements that mask information on drilling contamination.
A second issue involves transportation hazards posed by fracking chemicals. On December 30, Warren Buffet’s BNSF line was hauling 78,000 barrels of oil on 104 rail cars from the Bakken Shale to a refinery in Missouri when it was hit by another BNSF train carrying soybeans headed in the opposite direction, derailed, and started a massive fire. I spoke to ABC World News Tonight about this tragedy, and, as my friend Steve Horn reports, the crude oil was more volatile and dangerous because it was laced with fracking chemicals absorbed by the oil during the production process. Indeed, the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration just issued a warning that fracked oil is more chemically explosive. And corrosive agents used in fracking that are then absorbed by the oil, such as hydrochloric acid, “which federal investigators suspect could be corroding the inside of rail tank cars, weakening them.” This means that moving fracked oil by pipelines won’t be safer, since the caustic oil could corrode pipelines as well. Big oil is opposing federal efforts to retrofit the safety of rail cars hauling crude oil.
As I’ve written before, the fracking boom is failing to deliver affordable, safe or sustainable energy for America.
Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum
By David Palmer
In a 1992 presidential debate, President George Bush famously admitted that he did not know the price of a gallon of milk. Most Americans can probably tell the price of a gallon of milk, but most Americans probably cannot tell you the actual price of a hospital visit.
Because the majority of Americans are insured, the cost of a visit to the doctor is typically paid, at least in part, by the insurance company. The shadows that hide the price of medical care have allowed costs to grow like a fungus. The problem is not only that hospital-visit prices are not controlled by a traditional market, but also that the prices are hidden from customers, who often have no reasonable alternative. It’s time we shed a little light on the price of health care and trimmed the lurking costs.
Take, for example, the gallon of milk. If the price of milk suddenly jumped to $20, most people would probably stop buying milk (or protest in outrage.) But what if someone in your family needed the calcium in milk to survive? And what if you didn’t find out about the jump in price until after you had already bought it?
Every social movement has an anthem. Civil rights marchers sang “We Shall Overcome”, suffragettes sang “Shoulder to Shoulder”, and the labor movement has “Solidarity Forever”. Until now, the single payer movement has lacked a theme song to unite its members. Here at Public Citizen, I’d like you to help us choose one. I’ve listed my top 10 songs for single payer. Leave us your suggestions in the Comments section below.
10. “Blue Sky Mining” by Midnight Oil
Eighties music fans will probably remember these Australian political rockers. They made a poignant plea for separating healthcare from employment by asking, “If the Blue Sky Mining company won’t come to my rescue? And if the sugar refining company won’t save me? Then who’s going to save me?” If we had single payer, we wouldn’t rely on companies to “save us” from medical bankruptcies by providing health insurance. Everyone would be covered. No questions asked.
9. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy
This anthem against the entrenched interests opposing positive change rings even more true today. Almost twenty-five years after its initial release, the song still explodes with energy from the get go. The anger expressed by those who have been left behind is palpable. When Chuck D says “Give us want we want/Give us what we need”. We know what he is referring to. The most basic of all human rights: health care.
By David Palmer
Balance billing is a major problem in our health-care system that is too often overlooked. Balance billing occurs when a health-care provider, such as a doctor, charges more for a medical procedure than the patient’s insurance company will reimburse for it and the doctor bills the patient — sometimes illegally — to make up the balance. The practice often causes bewilderment and dismay for patients who have insurance and thought they were covered, only to arrive home facing monstrous bills from doctors and hospitals.
Balance billing can result when a patient sees an in-network provider or an out-of-network provider. However, many states make it illegal for health-care providers to balance bill patients who see them in-network. This type of regulation seems like common sense: in-network providers have contractually agreed to see patients who have certain insurance plans, and so know ahead of time what the reimbursements they are agreeing to. Some states also provide patient protection against out-of-network balance billing, for example, by passing regulations that consumers cannot be held liable for charges from out-of-network doctors in in-network hospitals. However, despite these protections, the system is rife with gaps and problems. If a doctor overcharges a patient, it is up to the patient — who may not understand the reason for the bill — to raise the issue with of his or her health insurance company or fight the bill independently.