A fixed oil and gas production platform in state waters may be a covered situs under the Longshore Act, if it is used in loading and unloading vessels.
The Benefits Review Board recently considered a case involving a fixed production platform in Black Bay, which sits in Louisiana territorial waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The claimant worked as an offshore warehouseman on the Black Bay “Central Facility.” The Central Facility included living quarters for workers who maintained other platforms in the field. The claimant, however, remained on the Central Facility throughout his work shift. The platform had a warehouse and three cranes for loading and unloading vessels. The platform received deliveries of most equipment by boat, including pipes, valves, potable water and other equipment. When any of the satellite platforms needed supplies, the supplies were shipped from the Central Facility by boat. It was undisputed that loading and unloading vessels was a large part of the claimant’s job, and that he performed those tasks on a daily basis. The claimant suffered an injury while unloading a vessel. He was standing in front of the warehouse and was injured by equipment that had just been unloaded by a crane.
The Administrative Law Judge found that the claimant’s injury did not occur on a covered situs because the Central Facility is not an “other adjoining area” under the Act. He determined that the Central Facility was used to further drilling for oil and gas, which is not a maritime purpose. The ALJ further noted that the platform was not used to ship oil to or from vessels; the oil instead was shipped from the platform through pipelines.
The Board began its analysis noting that a fixed platform is considered an “artificial island” and not navigable waters, citing Herb’s Welding v. Gray, 470 U.S. 414 (1985). As a result, to qualify as a covered situs, the Central Facility had to be an “other adjoining area customarily used by an employer” in loading or unloading a vessel . Citing the U.S. Fifth Circuit’s decision in New Orleans Depot Services, Inc. v. Director, OWCP, 718 F.3d 384 (5th Cir. 2013), the Board explained that an “adjoining” area for purposes of situs must satisfy two components: (1) the geographical component, i.e., it adjoins navigable waters, and (2) a functional component requiring that an employer customarily use the area in loading or unloading vessels. According to the Board, the parties agreed that the geographical component was met. Therefore, it focused its analysis on whether the Central Facility was customarily used for loading and unloading vessels, with the Board instructing that the area need not be used exclusively for maritime purposes.
The Board found that the Central Facility was customarily used for loading and unloading as required by the Act. The “uncontroverted evidence in this case reflects that the Central Facility, in essence, functioned as an offshore dock and a collection and distribution facility used to unload and store supplies and equipment delivered from the mainland by vessels and to load materials onto other vessels for delivery to the satellite oil and gas production platforms.” The Board distinguished the Central Facility from the platform in the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Thibodeaux v. Grasso Prod. Management Inc., 370 F.3d 486 (5th Cir. 2004), which was only occasionally used in loading and unloading supplies.
More importantly, the Board explained that the fact that only oil and gas related equipment was loaded and unloaded at the Central Facility “does not divest the platform of a maritime purpose.” Instead, the Board focused on the fact that the facility was used in loading or unloading vessels. The Board explained that “the nature of the cargo that was loaded and unloaded is not determinative of the situs inquiry.” The mere fact that the Central Facility was customarily used in loading and unloading vessels gave the platform its maritime nature, and any further search for an independent connection to maritime commerce was unnecessary.
Malta v. Wood Group Prod. Servs., BRB No. 14-0312 (5/29/15).
© 2018 Ira J. Rosenzweig