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Are dangers of transporting oil and natural gas overhyped?

In this June 9, 2014 photo, drivers and

In this June 9, 2014 photo, drivers and their tanker trucks, capable of hauling water and fracking liquid line up near a natural gas burn off flame and storage tanks in Williston, N.D. The epicenter of the oil boom is a 45-mile stretch of U.S. Route 85 in North Dakota between the towns of Williston and Watford City. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) Photo Credit: AP

Just like commercial airlines don't make headlines for the thousands of flights that reach their destination safely each day, you won't see much media coverage of the stellar safety rate achieved in all segments of America's oil and natural gas industry. But it's a reality with direct bearing on public policy.

Our nation's liquid pipeline system transports more than 14 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products per year at a safety rate of 99.999 percent.

Oil shipped to the United States from elsewhere arrived without incident at that same rate over the last decade.

North America's rail network moves 99.998 percent of hazardous materials - including crude oil - without incident. Refinery employees are up to five times less likely to be injured on the job than employees in other manufacturing sectors.

We did not achieve this record by chance. Since even one accident is too many, we work continuously with our partner industries and regulators to eliminate the last .001-.002 percent of risk from our operations using a comprehensive approach focused on prevention, mitigation and response.

The nation's more than 192,000 miles of liquid pipeline are subject to rigorous standards of continual improvement.

The petroleum industry launched a new Pipeline Safety Excellence initiative in 2014 to better track and improve safety performance. The data show pipeline releases in public areas dropped by 57 percent between 2001 and 2013 - with two-thirds of incidents occurring inside operator facilities with limited access to the public - and operators continue to step up inspection spending and the deployment of advanced technology to detect threats to pipeline integrity.

Multiple stakeholders are committed to achieving a 100 percent safety rate for crude-by-rail, and a comprehensive approach is key.

As former Department of Transportation official Cynthia Quarterman stated, "Getting a new tank car is not a silver bullet; first we need to prevent derailments." Track inspections and operational practices are a critical part of the holistic strategy - based on science and data - that's needed to improve safety in every aspect of the process.

Accident mitigation and response are also important. In 2011, the oil and natural gas industry helped lead a multi-industry effort to voluntarily improve the design of rail tank cars, but we didn't stop there.

API, for instance, proposed even stronger standards to DOT last year, which we hope to see included in new regulations expected in May. We also developed a new industry standard for sampling, testing and classifying crude and are working with the railroads to better educate first responders.

The same comprehensive approach has succeeded in improving safety in offshore drilling. Over the last five years, industry experts and regulators have worked together to examine every aspect of offshore safety.

To better prevent accidents, we revised existing standards and created new ones, including standards dealing with well design and blowout prevention. We also developed better tools for capping subsea wells, which are now are required to be pre-positioned for rapid deployment in the event of an incident. And we created the Center for Offshore Safety, which works closely with regulators and companies to foster a strong culture of safety in the industry.

These efforts received high praise from the co-chairs of President Barack Obama's Oil Spill Commission, who agree that "offshore drilling is safer" now than in 2010.

That's consistent with the long-term trajectory of America's oil and natural gas industry which is one of continually improving safety, not to mention growing strength as a pillar of the American economy - supporting 9.8 million U.S. jobs and 8 percent of the U.S. economy.

Our potential as a global energy leader is rooted in our ability to safely develop and transport our game-changing energy resources safely 100 percent of the time. A comprehensive, science-based approach is the best way to get there.

Jack Gerard is president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, the national trade association that represents all aspects of America's oil and natural gas industry.


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