Labor Officials Question Oil Companies’ Ability to Self Regulate

Image: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times.

Labor Union officials are expressing doubt in oil companies’ ability to increase worker safety while they continue using steam extraction, a procedure the union terms “inherently dangerous.” The questions emerged after  California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources released the results of a year-long investigation into the death of Chevron worker, Robert David Taylor.

According to the oil and gas agency’s report, Robert David Taylor and two Chevron co-workers were walking in a Kern county oil field last June when they observed a plume of steam coming from the ground.

As they moved closer, the earth opened up and swallowed Taylor. Immersed in a cauldron of oil fluids, he yelled for help as a co-worker tried to reach him, first by hand, then with a piece of pipe. His body was recovered 17 hours later.

Regulators said they had not asked Chevron whether the workers had been told that meters had detected the ground shifting in the area. But a separate investigation by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health earlier this year found that the company had failed to establish written guidelines for employees on how to use the devices.

According to the oil and gas agency’s report, Chevron had tried and failed to plug and abandon its damaged well three times before the accident. In the weeks and months after Taylor’s death, the ground trembled, and a crater began to spew oil fluids and rocks as high as 100 feet in the air. Today, it continues to seep roughly 40 barrels of fluid a day. LA Times, 22 May 2012.

Union officials and environmental regulators have not received much support on this issue. Governor Jerry Brown fired two oil regulators who were unsure about the safety of the process, saying “they had needlessly stepped up environmental scrutiny and slowed the permitting process.”