80 poisoning victims, cancer patients and relatives of former Norwegian workers on the Ekofisk field in the North Sea are now suing the
American oil company ConocoPhillips in the US. In their opinion the giant oil company has acted irresponsibly by not ensuring necessary maintenance and protection against chemicals which have resulted in serious health problems and premature deaths.
"We feel that we are not being heard in Norway and are banging our heads against a wall. People are dying all the time. We need help — and quickly," says former Ekofisk worker Jan-Erik Tandberg to Dagbladet.no.
He says that his employer, ConocoPhillips, is trying to tell the world that they did not know about the dangers the oil workers were exposed to.
"We have evidence to the contrary," says Tandberg.
Dagbladet.no has not been able to get a comment from ConocoPhillips regarding the lawsuit.
The Texan company Arnold & Itkin LLP believes that the Norwegian oil workers have a strong case. With the help of doctors, the law firm intends to demonstrate the connection between the health problems and the hazardous working environment on the Ekofisk field. The lawyers will also present evidence that ConocoPhillips has not been concerned about the workers´health. The amount of damages can be historically high by Norwegian standards.
"ConocoPhillips is an enormous company with astonishing amounts of money. Parting with ten million dollars would not be a big enough punishment for them. This is a company which every year budgets millions of dollars to allow for fines it incurs through illegal conduct. This company plans to break the law. The sky´s the limit when it comes to legal actions in the United States," says lawyer Lisa Sechelski to Dagbladet.no.
At the end of April, meetings were held in Sandefjord, Stavanger and Bergen for about 100 sick oil workers, in which the law firm explained the procedure for the legal action. The oil workers filled in questionnaires, signed papers relating to the lawsuit and presented their health records.
"These people have incurred various serious illnesses as a result of exposure to chemicals on oil platforms. Some need help almost round the clock. Many of them have contracted cancer," explains former Ekofisk worker Jan Terje Biktjørn.
Lawyer Lisa Sechelski says she knows what is needed to get ConocoPhillips to take notice.
"ConocoPhillips only remedies a situation once it has been caught. The amounts of money involved must make this company think twice. Otherwise it will simply continue to send people out into a working environment which will kill them," says Sechelski.
Several widows of former Ekofisk workers are participating in the lawsuit against ConocoPhillips. They noticed that in the last years of their lives their husbands struggled with many of the same afflictions that the more than one hundred oil workers in the action group are experiencing. Following the public focus on what oil workers have been exposed to in the North Sea, several survivors are now convinced that working conditions on the Ekofisk field were the cause of their spouses? premature deaths.
"He used to talk about how difficult it was to go off to work in the North Sea, but he forced himself. In December 2007 he died of prostate cancer at the age of 61," says Turid Anita Frøitland, widow of Tarald Haugland.
"He underwent physical changes and had a tendency to fall. He struggled with severe headaches in addition to joint pain and a range of vague symptoms. I couldn?t understand what was going on: he was no longer the man I married," says Alfhild Olaug Slemdal. One day her husband, Per Slemdal, simply disappeared and was found dead in the woods eight months later.
The American lawyers accumulated more than a hundred kilograms of documentation at the meetings in Norway, in addition to a similar amount presented to them in the US. They are in possession of documents which show that ConocoPhillips has been aware of the health risk but has done nothing about it.
The American law firm is now bringing the case before a judge in the US who will consider whether the oil workers? claims merit the attention of the American judicial system. If the judge is convinced, the scene is set for a legal battle.
"ConocoPhillips is constantly breaking the law. The lack of toxicity monitoring on the Ekofisk field is a contravention of the law. The company shows no care for the lives of its workers and has not taken the necessary steps to protect them. This has cost people their lives. There are also women here who have lost their husbands," says Lisa Sechelski.