To guard against coronavirus, Alaska oil companies are screening workers before flights to the North Slope

ConocoPhillips’ CD5 site is one of many of the North Slope’s remote oil developments. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Alaska’s major oil companies are screening workers for fevers before they fly to remote operations on the North Slope, in an effort to fight the spread of coronavirus, a top state health official said.

The companies met last week and agreed to “start screening all of their workers when they check in in Anchorage,” said Heidi Hedberg, Alaska’s public health director.

BP operates the North Slope’s largest oil field, Prudhoe Bay, and is conducting those screening measures, said spokeswoman Megan Baldino. Another major North Slope operator, ConocoPhillips, is “checking passenger temperatures as they board our aircraft headed north,” spokeswoman Natalie Lowman wrote in an email.

“This is an example of how we are prioritizing the health and safety of our employees and contractors,” Lowman said.

The companies are also reviewing their contingency plans in the event a case is discovered on the North Slope, and for a shortage of available employees, Hedberg added.

“They are actively planning and working on it,” Hedberg said.

The North Slope’s oil patch employs thousands of workers in an isolated area nearly 400 miles north of Fairbanks, the nearest big city. There’s a road used to haul industrial supplies, but most workers travel there by plane, and live and eat in shared spaces.

The major companies operating in the area have released few specifics about how they’re working to prevent a coronavirus case there, or how they’d respond if one was discovered. Baldino said in an email last week that the company is closely monitoring the spread of the virus, along with the guidance from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We continue to review and update our guidance to BP staff appropriately,” she said. “The safety and well-being of our employees is our highest priority.”