COVID-19 and Oil Workers’ Dangerous Conditions: 40+ Organizations Urge Secretary Bernhardt to Reduce Disease Risk
WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 40 organizations sent a letter today to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration urging them to address recent outbreaks of COVID-19 in the oil and gas industry that put workers and nearby communities at risk.
Similar to how the meatpacking industry’s crowded conditions led to massive spikes, the offshore and onshore oil and gas industry has been a vector for the spread of COVID-19, compounding the other health and environmental dangers posed by fossil fuels.
The letter notes that the offshore oil industry presents a high risk for workers, as oil rig employees spend shifts working on-site, sleeping and eating in tight quarters. Onshore oil and gas workers, particularly those living in “man camps,” also are at risk from close contact on the job and in quarters. Nearby communities – particularly Indigenous peoples, low-income populations and communities of color – are already at higher risk of suffering from COVID-19 and often have few healthcare resources.
In the letter, organizations requested that federal regulators investigate and publicly report on COVID-19 testing and infection rates at offshore and onshore oil and gas facilities operating within the U.S. It also requested that regulators require companies operating oil and gas facilities to publish COVID-19 response plans for all offshore and onshore sites, detailing precautionary measures implemented to: protect worker and community safety; mitigate hazards; minimize workplace exposure to COVID-19; minimize exposure of surrounding communities to COVID-19 infection by workers; track and report COVID-19 cases among workers (including regular testing protocols, where appropriate); specify back-to-work plans for exposed workers or those with confirmed infections; and train workers regarding COVID-19 prevention and response.
“Big Oil shouldn’t be allowed to hide coronavirus infections the same way it has hidden the impacts of burning fossil fuels on the climate,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “How widespread is COVID-19 on drilling platforms and in ‘man camps?’ What risks are oil and gas companies imposing on their workers? The federal government must demand reporting, as a basic first step to protect the health and lives of oil and gas workers.”
“It’s no surprise that the fossil fuel industry, which is the chief driver of the climate crisis, is also a vector of COVID infection around the world. The public has a right to know what oil and gas companies are doing to protect their workers and the communities endangered by industry practices,” said Nikki Reisch, director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law. “COVID outbreaks on oil rigs, like fossil-fueled wildfires and hurricanes, make clear that the oil and gas industry poses an existential threat, particularly to Black, Brown and Indigenous communities disproportionately at risk.”
“Corporate liability waivers are just the next phase of a Trump polluter bailout,” said Lukas Ross, program manager at Friends of the Earth. “Republicans want to hold unemployment benefits hostage in order to shield corporations from the law. Giving polluters a free pass when their negligence kills should be a non-starter.”