Offshore workers have been impacted by COVID-19 in two significant ways. First, the virus has put their jobs at risk. As people across the United States practice social distancing and work from home, they are buying less fuel in an oil economy that has already been struggling. With the price of petroleum falling because of a volatile market and a lack of demand, workers are experiencing cut hours and a lack of job security. Second, the virus is placing their health at risk. Virus outbreaks on oil platforms are a concern. Workers share equipment, are in close proximity to each other, and are far from medical facilities.
One concern that health officials have about coronavirus outbreaks on offshore oil rigs is inconsistent prevention practices. Offshore companies have received permission from the federal government to manage their own response to the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a lack of accountability. To make matters more concerning for workers is the fact that offshore companies have appealed for the suspension of the Jones Act, a law that's crucial for the safety of offshore workers.
With all this happening, it’s important to try and understand the impact that COVID-19 has already had on the health of offshore workers. Yet, there’s one problem: we’re not sure how many offshore workers have contracted the virus.
What We Know About Offshore Workers & COVID-19
The confirmed number of COVID-19 cases for offshore workers is weeks old. On April 8, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that 26 offshore workers in the Gulf had tested positive for coronavirus. At that point, 7 of 680 platforms in the Gulf had been affected by the virus.
Some of the workers who tested positive for coronavirus are employed by BP. The company claims that they were already onshore by the time they had tested positive and that it sanitized platforms before new crew members arrived at them. In a statement to the media, Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, expressed confidence in the outbreak mitigation efforts of oil and gas companies
“We see what we think are great results,” Milito said. “I think that’s due to the seriousness and the commitment we’ve seen.”
While initial reports seemed positive, the public has not been updated with offshore COVID-19 cases since April 8. The U.S. Coast Guard has refused to disclose additional testing numbers since then. As of April 21, NOIA has confirmed that at least 40 offshore workers tested positive for the virus—a number that nearly doubles estimates from weeks before.
According to one industry official, cutting of reporting of COVID-19 data for offshore workers was short-sighted. They worry that the initially low infection rates could create a false sense of confidence for workers and the public.
"A lot of people are willing to assume the worst when it comes to this administration and oil and gas," the official said. "Silence by the [Coast Guard] allows those voices to come to their own conclusions, which is often far away from the truth."
Notably, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has confirmed that it is not tracking COVID-19 cases among offshore workers. The agency has said that it is working with other authorities to monitor the virus’s spread in the offshore industry.
While there’s no way to currently confirm if COVID-19 is spreading among offshore workers from the United States, other countries have been battling the virus on their platforms. By mid-April, Brazilian health officials had confirmed that 126 oil and gas workers, including 74 who were offshore, had tested positive for coronavirus. In the North Sea, about 200 offshore workers have been evacuated because of suspected cases of COVID-19 on multiple platforms.
If you or a loved one contracted COVID-19 while working offshore, help is available. Call our COVID-19 offshore oil rig lawyers now at (888) 493-1629 for a free consultation.