Media Hype Aside, Energy Industry Is Exceptionally Safe

forbes-01Forbes | October 20, 2016 | Robert Bradley, Jr.

The new movie Deepwater Horizon chronicles a few brave rig workers during the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This is a story worth telling, but the Deepwater disaster should not be taken as an indictment of the entire energy industry.

Oil and natural gas firms actually have an exceptional safety record. Thanks to rapid technological advancement and steadily improving safety standards, incidents like Deepwater have proven extremely rare. In the century-plus history of offshore drilling, only two accidents are known to history in addition to Deepwater Horizon: the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill and the 1989 Valdez Oil Spill.

Three major accidents is three too many from the industry viewpoint. But energy development involves unique risks. Workers have to handle heavy equipment and toxic material, often in tight spaces. That’s why energy developers have created new technologies that significantly reduce danger. Automation of machinery reduces the chance of human error. Efficient new water pipelines reduce waste. And improved drilling technologies cut the amount of time workers have to spend underground.

What’s more, energy firms have worked closely with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other key federal agencies to develop new safety standards for equipment posing the highest risks, such as hatches and storage tanks.

Safety First

These developments have translated into real safety improvements. A new study from the Colorado division of OSHA shows that the average injury rate on new oil rigs is a third less than that of older rigs.

Meanwhile, the overall fatality rate for the oil and gas industry has dropped 60 percent since 2003. And the rate of work-related injury and illness has fallen 40 percent since 2005.

These are substantial gains, and they’ve helped make oil and gas work exceptionally safe. As of 2014, the private sector suffered 3.2 job-related, non-fatal injuries per 100 full-time workers. The energy industry, by comparison, had a rate of only 2.1. And offshore drilling, the focus of the Deepwater movie, is even safer, with an injury rate of just .5 per 100 workers.

Read the full op-ed here.

Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research.

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