Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wyo. lawyer-mayor lobbies for oil roughnecks

Before John Vincent became a lawyer, or the mayor of Riverton, Wyo., population 12,000, he spent several months working in Central Wyoming oil fields. Today, he is fighting on behalf of oil workers in one of the most dangerous states for the industry, which already has a death rate four times the death rate in other industries.

"For the last decade, Wyoming courts have made it increasingly difficult to hold oil and gas operators liable for negligence that causes injuries or deaths on their job sites, ruling that they owe no 'duty of care' to the roughnecks who work there," writes DeeDee Correll in the Los Angeles Times. Because most oil sites are overseen by independent contractors, the owners are not seen as maintaining "'pervasive' control over the site."

Vincent was stirred into action after he worked on the case of a worker who died from a collapsing beam, and the case was quickly dismissed because operators had not been held liable in the precedents. So Vincent "hired a lobbyist and persuaded state Rep. Keith Gregory to sponsor a bill asserting that operators owe a duty of care to their contractors' employees," writes Correll.

While a few Riverton residents worry that Vincent's actions may affect the town's job opportunities, others say they doubt it will have too much of an impact. Jim Davis, a member of the city council, says "The major oil companies are pretty bulletproof." Vincent himself notes of one oil company: "I don't want to get them too mad at me. They're thinking of building an office building here." (Read more)

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