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Coronavirus Protections Sought for Oil and Gas Workers


Dozens of environmental and safety groups are pushing the Trump administration to protect oil and gas workers – as well as the communities in which they live – from the novel coronavirus.

Groups Want COVID-19 Data from Oil and Gas Operations Made Public

In a September 8th letter to the Interior Department, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), Coast Guard, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the 40-member coalition demanded monthly public reporting of COVID-19 testing and infection rates at offshore and onshore oil and gas facilities operating in the United States.

They also asked that operators be required to develop coronavirus response plans and for the government to monitor and report on the implementation of these plains. Finally, the groups urged OSHA to presume that some coronavirus exposures are “work-related” when reporting work-related illnesses.

“The offshore oil industry presents a high risk for oil workers, as oil rig employees spend shifts working on site, sleeping and eating in tight quarters,” the groups wrote. “Onshore oil and gas workers, particularly those living in ‘man camps’ are also at risk from close contact on the job and in quarters.”

Major Energy Companies Have Struggled to Contain Outbreaks

In late May,  Royal Dutch Shell evacuated nine offshore workers from one of its Gulf of Mexico platforms after one individual began showing symptoms consistent with the coronavirus. Six of those workers eventually tested positive for COVID-19.

Shell was just one of several major oil companies, including BP, Chevron Corp., ExxonMobil, and Total SA, that have struggled to contain coronavirus at their operations in the United States and elsewhere.

“It’s scary,” one worker told NBC News.3 “You’re in close confinement. It’s like a cruise ship, except you’re not going anywhere.”

Drilling Industry Lacks Mandatory Prevention and Reporting Standards

In March, the Offshore Operators Committee – an organization of energy companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico — issued a tip sheet for reducing the spread of COVID-19, suggesting operators:

  • Pre-screen before workers travel to platforms,
  • Clean oft-touched surfaces on the platform.
  • Plan for quarantine and specialized transport for any offshore workers who exhibit coronavirus symptoms while onboard.

But there are no mandatory standards for preventing coronavirus transmission at either onshore or offshore drilling operations.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear how many onshore, and offshore workers might have contracted the pandemic virus in the United States, as no public or private entities are tracking the data. In April, after disclosing that 26 offshore oil workers had tested positive, the U.S. Coast Guard stopped releasing the number of infected workers, asserting that coronavirus reporting was the responsibility of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

COVID-19 Outbreaks Threaten Wider Communities

Because oil and gas workers have been deemed “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers,” they’ve continued to travel both within and between countries during the pandemic, putting even wider communities at risk. For example, outbreaks among oil and gas workers in Alberta’s tar sands region were linked to COVID-19 outbreaks across five Canadian provinces.

“In light of these travel patterns, the public needs accurate and timely information on COVID-19 outbreaks not only at onshore and offshore facilities in the United States, but also at offshore facilities worldwide that are owned or operated, in whole or in part, by companies also operating offshore facilities in the territory or Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States,” the coalition wrote. “Yet the Trump administration has failed to inform the public about the true extent of the problem in the United States.

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Our Undefeated Oilfield Accident Lawyers continue to monitor the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on energy workers and families across Texas, Louisiana, and throughout the United States and will post updates as new information becomes available.

If you or someone you loved were hurt while working at an oil or gas facility, please call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form.

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