Industry Voices: Oil and Gas Growing Safer


As Americans head to the theater to see a new film about one of the biggest energy-extraction disasters in recent history, voices from the industry are pointing out that safety is on the rise in the energy sector, and extraction isn’t simply a disaster waiting to happen.

In a piece on, Robert Bradley Jr., of the Institute for Energy Research, a free-market think tank, argues that the energy industry is in fact exceptionally safe today, in contrast with the picture put forward in the new film Deepwater Horizon, based on the 2010 offshore disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bradley backs his claims up with numbers from the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, which show that fatalities and nonfatal injuries in the industry are steadily declining—though working in oil and gas, especially upstream and on offshore rigs, is still much more dangerous than most jobs.

Fatality Rate Declines

NIOSH, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, instituted a special program looking at safety in the oil and gas industry in 2007. The Fatalities in Oil and Gas Extraction (FOG) program has released a number of publications documenting declines in fatalities in the injury in recent years.

A CDC report in 2015, using numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that while gross numbers for fatalities in the industry trended generally upward between 2003 and 2013, the actual fatality rate generally declined during that time, given that the total number of workers in the industry grew rapidly.

From 2003 through 2007, annual fatality rates in the industry were generally around 30 deaths per 100,000 workers; that rate has been 25 or less since 2008.

Natural gas pipeline being welded.
© / asterix0597

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America says that between 2002 and 2014, material and weld leaks were down by 20 percent.

According to 2014 data from the BLS put together by CDC epidemiologist Kyla Retzer, the vast majority of oil and gas industry deaths occur “upstream,” at drilling and production sites. The fatality rate for upstream workers was 22.9 deaths for every 100,000 workers, according to BLS numbers. Midstream and downstream workers had a 2014 fatality rate of just over 4 per 100,000, in comparison.

Increased Efforts, Safer Rigs

The drop in industry deaths could be accounted for, Retzer notes, by a number of factors, from increased safety efforts within the industry and government, to new, automated rigs that reduce risky situations for workers.

Bradley, in his piece, also points out that nonfatal injuries occur in the oil and gas industry at a rate that’s even lower than the national average across all industries. The BLS published a fact sheet in 2014 noting that in 2011, the nonfatal injury rate for oil and gas extraction was 2.1 cases per 100 full-time workers, and the rate for oil and gas support activities was 3.0 cases per 100 full-time workers, both lower than the national average of 3.5.

Dangerous Work

While declining fatality rates are good news for the oil and gas industry, it’s important to note that drilling still is a dangerous business to be in.

With fatality rates upwards of 20 per 100,000 workers, the industry sees on-the-job fatalities more than five times the national average across all industries, which has fluctuated in the range of 3.3 to 4 deaths per 100,000 since 2007.

Offshore rig
© / theflyingrussian

The CDC notes that from 2003 through 2010, the offshore industry had a fatality rate of more than seven times the national average.

And the most recent comprehensive look at offshore rig-related fatalities, published by the CDC in 2013, shows less encouraging numbers as well. Looking at the period from 2003-2010, the report shows that the rate of fatalities in that sector rose, even before 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon explosion claimed the lives of 11 workers. The report notes that the offshore industry during that time had a fatality rate of more than seven times the national average.

The CDC is currently planning a field survey of oil and gas industry workers to assess workplace safety in the industry; the study, first proposed in 2015, was submitted for comment again in August 2016, with the comment period having ended earlier this month.

Pipeline Breaches Plummet

As Bradley points out, pipelines—both oil and natural gas—are much safer than ever before. According to industry groups, in the 15-year period from 1999 to 2014, the pipeline industry as a whole reduced pipeline releases by 50 percent, and brought corrosion-caused incidents down by 76 percent.

Between 1984 and 2012, according to the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, pipeline leaks were reduced by 94 percent. The same group says that between 2002 and 2014, material and weld leaks were down by 20 percent.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Centers for Disease Control; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Health & Safety; Health and safety; Latin America; NIOSH; North America; Offshore; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Safety

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