Bill calls for health care for oilfield workers
For the News-Sun
A bill aimed at compensating oilfield workers for uninsured medical costs related to oilfield work was introduced in Hobbs Wednesday by first-term U.S. Representative Gabe Vasquez, D-NM, before a gathering of about 75 people at an event sponsored by Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
Vasquez called out oil companies and wealthy, out-of-state oil executives in his announcement of H.R. 5222 — the Energy Workers Health Improvement and Compensation Act — which requires oil and gas companies to contribute to a fund to cover health expenses for workers and their families for conditions such as asthma, heat-related illness and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases associated with air pollution and prolonged exposure to methane emissions.
“Oil-and-gas CEOs who are raking in record profits aren’t the heart of our energy economy, it’s the workers who risk their lives and health every day that power America’s energy economy,” said Vasquez. “That’s why I’m standing by the workers, not the oil barons. I’m focused on investing in the folks who have generated hundreds of millions in revenue for our state.”
H.R. 5222, The Energy Workers Health Improvement and Compensation Fund Act, would establish a trust fund that would provide reimbursement to energy workers for health costs associated with poor air quality and intense heat.
The fund would be paid for by energy companies and each company would be responsible for contributing an amount equal to the compensation provided to their ten highest paid employees.
The congressman said oil and gas workers live dangerous lives working tirelessly and the least oil companies can do is support them.
“If oil executives are getting paid over $35 million, they can afford dignified health care for their employees. This bill helps level the playing field,” he said.
In 2022, Exxon Mobile’s CEO earned $35.9 million in total pay, while the median pay for Exxon’s workers fell by 9 percent, according to a news release from Vasquez’s office.
According to the EPA, methane emissions and other volatile organic compounds irritate the lungs, exacerbate diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
New Mexico ranks 41st in the nation for overall air quality and has a higher prevalence of asthma than the national average. Hobbs often has the worst air quality in the state, according to IQAir.
On Aug. 8, the EPA issued a $5.5 million fine to Mewbourne Oil Company for excessive air pollution which is linked to the illnesses covered by Vasquez’s legislation.
In July, the EPA levied a $1.285 million penalty against Callon Permian LLC for violations of the Clean Air Act. And in March, the EPA fined Matador Production Company more than $1.15 million for air quality violations.
“The workers in these fields slog through dangerous conditions and are often exposed to airborne toxins. I’m making sure our energy workers are being prioritized, and that while the rich are getting richer, the companies and people responsible for creating these health disparities are being held accountable,” said Vasquez.
According to Somos Un Pueblo Unido, nearly half of energy workers have reported an injury on the job, the majority of which are permanent.
The state and nation rely heavily on the revenues generated through oil and gas operations in the Permian Basin, but ignore the toll that generating that revenue takes on those who live and work in the area, said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
“New Mexico relies heavily on oil and gas revenues, but lawmakers often ignore the grave cost to frontline communities and industry workers,” Díaz said. “Immigrant families in the Permian Basin are disproportionately impacted by inadequate enforcement of health and safety standards, long hours, and extreme work conditions. That’s why they are organizing and demanding adequate compensation, safer and better jobs and more public investments in their families and communities.”
Manuel Garfio, a former oil worker and member of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, who is out of work because of an on-the-job vehicular accident and chronic illness spoke at the event saying oilfield workers do no receive fair compensation when injuries occur and called the House bill a “great first step.”
“Our working conditions are inhumane,” Garfio said.
New Mexico’s second congressional district is one of the top energy-producing districts in the country. Lea County produces more oil than any other county in the United States.