Not only the largest non-state owned gas and oil company in the world, ExxonMobil can also claim to be one of the largest of any type of companies in the world. ExxonMobil formed in 1999 when Exxon and Mobil merged, and now it is the largest company to come from the government-forced 1911 split of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. Offshore oil exploration and drilling is a big part of the modern company’s operations, and is responsible for about three percent of the world’s oil production.
ExxonMobil has a long history, and not all of it is positive. The company has been at the root of a number of infamous environmental incidents, including one considered to be the world’s worst. It has also faced multiple safety incidents, many of which led to worker fatalities. Workers in the offshore production of ExxonMobil can claim rights under maritime law when injured in such an accident.
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ExxonMobil is the world’s largest international oil and gas company that is publicly traded. The company operates offshore and inland exploration and drilling; it owns refineries for producing petroleum products; it makes and sells chemicals; and it owns gas stations and retail outlets for its products. It has also tacked some environmental issues including carbon sequestration.
ExxonMobil is the eighth largest company in the world when tracked by revenue. By market capitalization it is the fifth largest publicly-traded company in the world. In 2014 the Fortune 500 list ranked ExxonMobil as the second most profitable company. It is the largest of the supermajors, the world’s largest oil and gas energy companies, with billions of barrels of oil in reserves around the world. This is enough to produce oil at the current rate for nearly 15 years. The company also owns 37 refineries in 21 countries.
The history of the modern ExxonMobil dates back more than 100 years to the founding of Standard Oil Company by Rockefeller and associates in 1870. In the following decades, Standard Oil would grow quickly. In 1879 it bought a controlling interest in Vacuum Oil Company, which pioneered lubricant products and introduced the Mobil brand name to the world.
In 1911 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil would have to break up into 34 independent companies. Its monopoly in the oil industry had grown too large and was violating anti-trust laws. Two of these spin-offs were Vacuum, which would be renamed Mobil Oil Corporation in 1966 and jersey Standard, which would become Exxon Corporation in 1972. The two companies merged in 1999 to become ExxonMobil.
ExxonMobil has been successful in finding and tapping important oil reserves in various international offshore locations. In offshore Russia, for example, the company drilled the world’s longest well in 2007 to a depth of more than seven miles. In 2011, after the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP disaster was lifted ExxonMobil made one of the biggest oil discoveries of the last decade.
Nearly 70 percent of the company’s revenues come from upstream operations, or exploration, development, and production of oil and gas reserves. Much of this happens offshore, including 1.5 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. Smaller, but significant offshore operations are ongoing in Africa, the Middle East, and Russia.
ExxonMobil, and the two companies that merged to form it, have been in trouble over the years for numerous environmental accidents. By far the worst occurred in 1989 when Exxon’s Valdez supertanker ran aground in the Prince William Sound in Alaska. A huge amount of oil, about 11 million gallons, quickly spilled into the water. In terms of the volume of the spill it was not the worst in history, but in terms of environmental damage it consistently ranks number one.
Hundreds of thousands of animals were killed including birds, otters, whales, and fish and decades later, oil was still seen in the waters in the area. Exxon spent billions on the clean-up but was widely criticized for a slow response to the disaster. Exxon was ordered to pay $5 billion in jury-awarded punitive damages, but after several appeals the amount was lowered to $500 million.
Other environmental accidents include an oil spill in Brooklyn that resulted in as much as 30 million gallons of leaked petroleum products. Much of the spill was the result of years of leaks and some of the products were nearly a century old. In Baton Rouge in 2012 an ExxonMobil refinery leaked benzene, a toxic chemical. The same year in the same location the company experienced a crude oil pipeline spill. These are just a few examples of the multiple leaks and spills ExxonMobil has been responsible for.
In addition to letting environmental incidents occur, ExxonMobil has been guilty of allowing unsafe conditions to lead to accidents that hurt or killed workers. One of these was very recent and occurred at a refinery in May of 2016. A contract worker died during maintenance work when a pipe fell and struck him on the head. He died on the site. At the same refinery in 2013 a fire erupted and injured 12 workers. Two of them later died because of complications from the burns.
At a refinery in Torrance, California in 2015 an explosion injured four ExxonMobil workers. An investigation found that the company failed in its duty to eliminate hazardous conditions and was liable in the accident. ExxonMobil was fined over the incident and the injured workers have the right to sue for compensation.
Maritime Worker Rights
For a large company with so many offshore and shipping transport operations, worker safety is a big concern. ExxonMobil claims to be dedicated to safety as a top priority and yet accidents have happened and workers have been injured and even killed on the job. Maritime work like these employees and contractors are engaged in is very dangerous. They face the risks of fires and explosions, gas and oil leaks, rough weather, dangerous waters, and equipment accidents and failures that can have devastating consequences.
What these workers have on their side is maritime law. If you work for a company like ExxonMobil and your work qualifies as maritime work, you are protected by these laws. Offshore and platform workers are typically covered by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which allows them to sue employers for compensation following an injury or to access workers’ compensation. If you have been hurt on the job make sure you talk to a maritime lawyer before agreeing to anything your employer offers. This is the best way to ensure you get everything you are owed.