Energy & Environment

More than 40 groups call for coronavirus protections for oil and gas workers

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A coalition of more than 40 organizations is urging the federal government to take steps to protect workers at oil and gas facilities, as well as the communities surrounding the sites, from the coronavirus. 

In a letter to the Interior Department, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), Coast Guard and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the groups specifically call for monthly public reporting on COVID-19 testing and infection rates at oil and gas facilities. 

The coalition, which includes a number of environmental groups, also called for requiring companies operating the facilities to put forth coronavirus response plans and for the government to monitor and report on the implementation of these plains. The groups additionally asked OSHA to presume that some 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.”

“It is incumbent on federal regulators to investigate whether oil and gas operators are sanitizing workspaces, evacuating workplaces when necessary and adopting strict safety protocols such as temperature checks and frequent COVID-19 testing,” they added. 

Reports have shown that some oil and gas workers in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus. Meanwhile, other countries have seen significant impacts, including Mexico, whose state owned oil company has seen more than 200 employee deaths. 

The industry has also been hit by sinking prices because of a drop in demand linked to the pandemic. 

Asked for comment, Coast Guard spokesperson Brittany Panetta pointed The Hill to a March guidance issued by a regional office that has jurisdiction over the Gulf of Mexico coastline.  

The guidance states that operators “shall develop and be prepared to execute plans to evacuate offshore personnel exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, and have them tested.” It says they are “reminded to report the illness…or death to their respective Coast Guard Sector Command Center.”

OSHA and Interior, which oversees BSEE, didn’t immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. 

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