Chevron is a major American-based, but multinational, energy company that is involved in oil and gas exploration and development, including offshore operations. The company has a long history and was one of the companies spun off from Standard Oil when the U.S. government forced the breakup of that monopoly. In addition to offshore drilling, Chevron makes petrochemicals and fuel and researches alternative energy sources like wind and solar.
Offshore oil work is dangerous, but for many years Chevron had a reputation for safety. In the last decade or so, however, it has been plagued by accidents, incidents, and controversies. From explosions on rigs to fires and oil leaks, and even claims of pollution from South American indigenous people, Chevron has had a lot to answer to. Often it is the individual workers who suffer the most when companies like Chevron fail at safety. If you work offshore and are hurt in an accident, know that you have rights to fair compensation under maritime law.
The earliest predecessor for today’s Chevron Corporation was the Pacific Coast Oil Co., which was founded in San Francisco in 1879. This company discovered the first oil in California, in the Pico Canyon and created the first successful oil well in the state. Soon after, the company was building refineries and pipelines. This early company merged with Iowa Standard to create Standard Oil Co., under the parent company of Standard Oil.
In 1911 Standard Oil was split up under the Sherman Antitrust Act and the future Chevron became known as Standard Oil Company of California. The company began using the Chevron name for retail products in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the name of the entire company was officially renamed Chevron U.S.A. Inc. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2000, which created the second-largest oil company in the U.S.
Chevron’s current operations include oil and natural gas exploration and production, refining, transportation, power, alternative energy, including hydrogen, wind power, solar power, and fuel cells, chemicals and additives, lubricants, supply and trading, and products and service including Chevron, Texaco, and Caltex service stations.
Chevron explores and develops oil and gas fields around the world, including numerous offshore sites. Some of the most recent sites for exploration have included West Africa, offshore Australia, and the Gulf of Mexico. The company is a leader in using new technologies for deepwater exploration and drilling. In exploration Chevron uses things like seismic imaging and ocean bottom nodes. Chevron is also involved in shipping liquefied natural gas.
Chevron’s Safety Policy
The company claims to be dedicated to safety, but also recognizes that it involves workers in some of the most dangerous activities in any industry. Chevron strives to build in layers of protection to prevent accidents and developing systems that foster a culture of safety throughout the company. At Chevron this is termed “operational excellence.”
Company-wide workers are supposed to adhere to the principles of the OEMS, the Operational Excellence Management System. According to Chevron leadership, using these guiding principles, the company outperformed its safety targets for 2015. It also claims to be an industry leader in preventing accidents and injuries. And yet, it recognizes that recent fatalities were not prevented.
In spite of a dedication to safety, Chevron has faced a lot of accidents over the years, including more than one worker fatality. The offshore industry of exploring and drilling for oil is a dangerous one and even the most carefully planned out safety strategy cannot prevent all accidents. Such has been the case with Chevron and some unfortunate workers.
Although the company cited 2015 as a record year for prevented accidents, it failed to prevent the death of a worker in October on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The rig was being contracted by Chevron at the time. Exactly what happened was not reported, but the statement made said that just one worker died and there were no other injuries. The rig was just getting started on drilling, but operations were halted after the accident.
Chevron also lost a worker in the Gulf of Mexico in 2014. The contract worker was doing maintenance on a gas pipeline along with others when it experienced a valve failure. As with the 2015 incident, Chevron did not release much information about what happened, but in addition to the one fatality, two other workers suffered injuries.
In 2011 and 2012 the company experienced a serious of accidents that hurt and killed workers. In Wales in June of 2011, four workers died after an explosion rocked a refinery there. In Bakersfield not long after that a worker died in the oil field when a steam-filled sinkhole opened up underneath him. Not all incidents were safety-related. Some were environmental including a 2011 spill out of one of the company’s deep sea wells off the coast of Brazil.
Any time there are workplace accidents like these, workers may sue the company for compensation for injuries or for the death of a family member. Maritime workers have rights under the law to sue for damages if an employer is not offering adequate compensation. There are also instances when cases are much bigger than just one or two individuals suffering from personal injuries.
One of these remains ongoing and was brought against Chevron by indigenous people in South America. The lawsuit began in 2003 when residents of Ecuador filed a class action suit against Chevron for polluting their Amazon rainforest home with 18 billion gallons of drilling byproduct water. This kind of byproduct is polluted with solids and is unsuitable for drinking or even using in agriculture.
The people filing the suit claimed that Chevron polluted their homes and did nothing to remediate the damage. Chevron fought back saying that it was oil companies based in Ecuador that were liable and that Chevron entered a deal that had released them from any liability. Eventually the people were awarded over $8 billion to compensate for lost crops and animals and to cover medical costs of illnesses caused by the pollution. They appealed, seeking more money, but Chevron has refused to pay, and so the case carries on.
Chevron also faced a lawsuit filed in 2012 after an incident in the waters of Nigeria in West Africa. An oil rig exploded and burned for over a month. The incident left two workers dead, but also polluted and poisoned the local water and air. The people there filed a lawsuit against Chevron to seek $5 billion in damages. They claimed that Chevron could be found negligent in the accident, but after two years a court determined that negligence could not be proven. Chevron did not have to pay out for that incident.
Lawsuits against maritime companies like Chevron can be as big as a class action lawsuit or as small as one individual suing for compensation after a minor accident. All cases, however, require an expert in maritime law. If you have been injured on the job, don’t try to go it alone. Rely on the expertise of a professional maritime lawyer to guide your next moves and to ensure that you get the money that you are owed for your injuries, your medical expenses, and your pain and suffering.