Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A view of the Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown, Texas, Sept. 15, 2008.

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

Major energy companies in the United States imposed work-from-home rules for office staff and began health checks for remote or critical workers as coronavirus spread and threatened an industry reeling from falling demand and profits.

BP, Exxon Mobil, Kinder Morgan, Motiva Enterprises and Royal Dutch Shell told most U.S. office staff to work from home starting Monday. U.S. federal regulators on Friday were pressed by companies to ease work rules for pipeline operators and to limit visits to some sites. Shell and Chevron began health checks of workers and visitors at some key U.S. facilities, spokesmen said.

Offshore rigs, refineries and pipelines require on-site teams and group workers in close quarters, making them vulnerable in a COVID-19 outbreak. They cannot be run remotely and health checks could prevent forced shutdowns that could lead to big losses or local fuel shortages.

Story continues below advertisement

The pandemic has infected more than 156,000 people worldwide including some 2,900 people in the United States, killed more than 5,800 globally and slashed fuel demand amid shuttered schools, churches, offices and some retail stores.

There is only one known case of COVID-19 to hit a U.S. refinery. Marathon Petroleum Corp, the nation’s largest refiner by capacity, removed some staff at a California plant after an employee became ill. Norwegian oil firm Equinor halted a North Sea development project and removed staff after an offshore worker fell ill.

Falling oil demand and a price war that slashed crude prices by about 50 per cent this year have put the industry in a tailspin. Many oil firms have abruptly cut spending and staff to cope with the downturn.

Work-at-home rules, fewer car and plane trips are expected to reduce U.S. petroleum demand by up to 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd). For the full year, it could cut motor fuel use by roughly 300,000 to 400,000 bpd.

There have been no refining or chemical plant shut-ins caused by coronavirus. Still, companies are drafting plans similar to hurricane measures that keep plants running with minimal staff, said people familiar with operations.

Shell asked salaried staff at its Louisiana refineries to begin shadowing hourly plant operators to prepare managers to run units if necessary, the people said.

Exxon will allow only trained operators into control rooms at its Baytown plant, and they must remain at least six feet apart from one another, they added.

Story continues below advertisement

Pipeline regulators were asked on Friday to consider easing work-rules for control room operators and to limit visits by U.S. and state inspectors, said Suzanne Lemieux, an emergency expert at trade group American Petroleum Association.


BP and Shell on Friday gave workers work-at-home assignments following similar social-distancing measures at Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft’s Silicon Valley offices. The rules affect about 15,000 U.S. Shell workers.

Shell has begun screening staff who travel to its U.S. Gulf of Mexico production rigs “to ensure that we minimize the risks of COVID-19 transmission” to offshore workers, said spokesman Curtis Smith.

The sweeping precautions affect refinery, oil and gas export terminal and gas pipeline operations. Kinder Morgan Inc, one of the largest North American pipeline firms, asked most of its 11,000 employees to work from home beginning Monday. It will reevaluate the situation weekly, said spokeswoman Melissa Ruiz.

Non-essential workers at BP’s U.S. refineries, Exxon’s Baytown, Texas, refinery and Shell’s Convent and Norco, Louisiana, plants also will work from home beginning Monday, according to people familiar with the matter. BP may keep the measures through mid-April, one of the people said.

Exxon would not comment on specific actions. It is focused “on ensuring the safety and health of our entire workforce and to do our part to limit the spread,” said spokesman Todd Spitler.

Story continues below advertisement

Marathon Petroleum launched “business-continuity plans to accommodate staffing needs in the event of illness-related absenteeism,” spokesman Jamal Kheiry said.

Among measures being weighed at refineries are assigning small crews to keep plants during an outbreak, the people said. Crews would not leave until the crisis passed.

Most refineries can operate with about half their normal staff, the people said, but may have to scale back production.

Refiners LyondellBasell Industries and Chevron are considering health checks for employees as they begin their workday, said people familiar with the deliberations.

“We are taking precautionary measures to reduce the risk of exposure, including screening workers and visitors,” Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall said. Local offices will set their own rules with health officials, he added.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies