A New Oil Industry Safety Group Controlled By The Oil Industry

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The main oil and gas industry trade association has set up a new safety division. Perhaps it will do better than ones created in the past. The Center for Offshore Safety will be operated by the American Petroleum Institute. The API said “the program will be run by the separately funded standards and certification arm of the American Petroleum Institute, which receive regular audits and accreditation by the American National Standards Institute and the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board.” That is a way to say that the safety arm of the association will not be run by its lobbyists.

The telling part of the announcement about the The Center for Offshore Safety is this:  “It will fall under API’s global industry standards group, which has a decades-long history establishing guidelines and standards for industry equipment and practices.” Those guidelines have not done much to prevent accidents before. The Deepwater Horizon is the most visible of these. BP plc (NYSE: BP) has a long history of violations. The API did not bother to address those. That responsibility fell to blind regulators who did not detect the problems either.

BP is not the only villain in the industry’s history of lax safety practices. The Center for Public Safety recently released a report on the dangers of refineries based in the US. The research showed that a number of accidents at refineries could have been prevented. In June of last year Congressman Bart T. Stupak, commented, “It could be said that BP is the one bad apple in the bunch, but unfortunately, they appear to have plenty of company.” He cited a number of documented instances of safety problems to support his claim.

The oil industry is not known for air tight disaster prevention procedures. Pipelines burst. Oil wells leak. The industry can claim, perhaps fairly, that complex production and transportation logistics make some amount of trouble inevitable. That is probably true, but it is hypocritical to say a new safety panel controlled by the industry’s trade group will make a meaningful difference.

Douglas A. McIntyre