Drillers and doctors join forces to find oil and save babies

HOUSTON — Four years ago, huddled in a conference room inside a shimmering skyscraper in downtown Houston, a doctor and two researchers pored over Liberian child mortality rates.

They also studied jobs data, school tallies, information about water systems — enumerating day-to-day deficiencies of life in the West African nation founded by former American slaves.

The research in a Chevron Corp. office was the start of an elaborate process that would expand the search for oil into a quest to solve problems in a place where they sometimes seem insurmountable.

Altruism is part of it. So is business.

Chevron and other oil companies develop social responsibility plans, often including contributions to  hospitals and schools, as a way to integrate into countries where they work. But critics say the approach skirts deeper problems in developing nations where weak institutions aren’t ready to take advantage of the billions of dollars in taxes and revenue the nation can collect when energy companies strike oil.

To read more about the benefits and concerns surrounding oil companies’ social responsibility plans in developing countries, log in to HoustonChronicle.com.