Filipino workers’ role ‘crucial’ in US oilfields reconstruction after Katrina–officialsBy Dennis Atienza Maliwanag
MANILA, Philippines–Skilled Filipino oil workers “played a crucial role” in restoring oil production in the Gulf of Mexico following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in the US Gulf coast in 2005, officials said.
Katrina, the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee storm in the US, destroyed 30 oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, shut nine refineries, and slashed oil production in the region.
Skilled oil workers were needed in the reconstruction and Louisiana-based Grand Isle Shipyard, Inc. (GIS), a highly diversified oilfield service company, opted to bring in Filipinos to the Gulf of Mexico based on the company’s experience working with them in offshore oil platforms in Nigeria in 2004.
“Our team brought back great comments to our leadership regarding their safety-conscious attitude, work ethic, knowledge of their respective craft, ability to communicate well in English and their overall attitude toward the work,” said GIS operations manager Mark Pregeant II.
In a statement released by the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C., Pregeant said that when many of Louisiana’s oil platforms were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, he knew where to go to address the huge shortage of personnel needed to help in the reconstruction. In November 2005, an initial crew of 24 workers arrived from the Philippines and by early 2006, there were more than 350 Filipinos working in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Filipino nationals contributed over 500,000 man-hours throughout that six-month period to help restore oil production in the Gulf of Mexico,” Pregeant said. “Without their help, I believe there would have been significant delays.”
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr., who flew to Louisiana over the weekend to check on the condition of Filipinos injured in an oil rig platform blaze in the Gulf of Mexico last Friday, said Filipinos are no stranger to oilfield work.
“Filipinos are not new to the oil and gas sector as they have been working in oil fields, refineries and offshore platforms in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Australia as early as the 1970s,” said Cuisia.
As of November, there are 40,000 Filipinos working in the offshore oil and gas industry in various parts of the world, said Cuisia, citing statistics from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
About 2,000 of them are in the United States, including in Louisiana, which accounts for 23 percent of total US crude oil production.
“Although Filipinos first set foot in Louisiana as early as the 1700s, it was only in 2005 that workers from the Philippines began making their presence felt in the offshore oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico,” Cuisia said.
Cuisia said when he visited New Orleans this week to personally look into the November 16 tragedy, he was told that workers from the Philippines are very much in demand among the big oil companies because of their skills and experience.
“Many of these welders, fitters, and riggers have many years of experience and the companies they are employed in have expressed their satisfaction and admiration for their work ethics. This is why the Filipino workers are highly valued and very well compensated,” he said.
Pregeant agreed, saying, “The same great qualities we found in Nigeria were displayed here in the US. That is why we are continuing the relationship today, and hope to continue it throughout the very distant future.”
“Our experience with the Filipino national workforce has been extremely enjoyable. We really value these individuals and consider them part of our family,” he said.