The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Industry Standards and the Core Commitment to Safety

Clinton Manning

Clinton Manning
Posted August 16, 2017

During a conference call with reporters on new study detailing the positive impacts of energy infrastructure construction on the U.S. economy and America’s middle class, both Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), and Jack Gerard, API president and CEO, acknowledged the role of safety in advancing pipelines and other needed energy projects.

These projects need the public’s support – which in many ways is tied to industry’s ability to safely develop and deliver natural gas, oil and finished products while protecting communities and the environment.  This is the focus and core commitment of the more than 10 million women and men who work directly, indirectly or in jobs supported by the natural gas, oil and refined products industry. 

Industry-created standards form the bedrock of industry’s safety commitment. Through its oldest trade association, API, industry first began publishing standards in 1924. Almost a century ago, industry leaders worked together and with government and other stakeholders to draft and implement standards that advance the safety, efficiency and environmental protection of all aspects of energy production. This has never been more important than today. Gerard talked about safety during discussion of NABTU’s employment study and the need for more pipeline infrastructure:

“Pipelines are essential, as 99.999 percent of all of our products is moved through pipelines safely. We have a good track record. Sean and I and our various groups and teams work together to ensure safety, best practices and quality control, and we continue to collaborate in those areas to benefit the broader infrastructure effort.”

Today there are more than 700 standards and technical publications. More than 130 of those standards are incorporated in federal regulations, and more than 240 are incorporated in state regulations cited more than 4,130 times. 

Why? Because API’s standards reflect decades of industry’s real-world expertise and best practices, developed via a process that’s accredited through the same American National Standards Institute regime used to accredit similar programs at several national labs.

ANSI accreditation is a transparent, data-driven and demanding process that brings together subject matter experts from a wide range of relevant disciplines – including academia, government regulators and industry experts – who are focused on improving the safety of development, storage, transportation and use of energy resources.

For American consumers, it means that even before the energy makes it to the wellhead, industry standards are there to protect workers, the environment and the community. These standards range from well construction to post-production storage, including the equipment and components used every step of the way.

API standards are respected throughout the world of energy development and often are referenced by regulatory bodies. Let’s use offshore energy as an example. Today there are more than 200 offshore rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico, with 96 API standards referenced in the regulations of the Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement – the lead federal agency in terms of offshore energy oversight. That’s three times more than all the other organizations listed in the regulation combined. 

Once recovered, much of that energy travels through the United States’ network of more than 190,000 miles of liquid pipelines:

liqujid_pipelines

And more than 300,000 miles of natural gas pipelines:

NG_pipelines

Highly-regulated, America’s pipeline network also is the focus of more than 30 safety standards covering subjects from construction to operation. This ensures a rigorous and thorough maintenance and inspection system that is focused on pipeline integrity. The goal is to spot pipeline issues and resolve them before they may cause an incident – and to focus especially on areas where the public or sensitive environments could be affected.

A good example is Recommended Practice 1173, implemented a few years ago in collaboration with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and other stakeholders, establishing a “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle for pipeline companies to review their safety management systems while adapting to industry best practices. It’s an important part of the industry’s pursuit of zero incidents. Announcing RP 1173, API Midstream Group Director Robin Rorick highlighted this goal:

“We are always looking for new ways to make them better, which is why the industry is embracing this new standard. It's also a great example of what can be done when industry, regulators and all key stakeholders work together to achieve a common objective, which is to protect the public, the environment and provide the fuels Americans need.”

Once it reaches the refiner, oil or natural gas can be turned into fuels to power vehicles or feedstocks used by a variety of manufacturers producing everything from cosmetics, to pharmaceuticals to plastics.   

Some of the oil will be refined into motor oil. Thanks to industry standards, if the “Check Engine” light comes on we don’t have to wonder whether the motor oil meets the vehicle manufacturer’s requirements. API motor oil standards let consumers know that the oil they buy has the properties it claims to have every time, everywhere.

Specifically, the standard in API Publication 1509, the “Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System,” assures consumers that if a product bears the API seal, that the product has been rigorously tested.

Energy is omnipresent in our lives – so much so we don’t question the quality, reliability or the authenticity of the natural gas and oil that we use almost every minute of our lives. And that is thanks to the continuous commitment to safety improvement, responsible environmental stewardship and quality control reflected in hundreds of industry standards.

Energy, in all of its forms and functions, is basic to our daily lives. We live in an age where our nation is more energy secure than ever before because of America’s ongoing domestic energy renaissance. For most of us, staying warm in the winter or comfortable in summer is achieved with no more thought than flicking a switch or turning a knob.

Yet, we should remember that this ease of use is possible thanks to the thousands of miles of pipeline, the countless connections, valves, monitors and other equipment – built and maintained with the guidance of industry standards. Coupled with industry’s unmatched expertise and commitment to safe operations, these ensure that all of us are reliably supplied with the energy we need every day.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Clinton Manning became senior writer at API after spending the last 14 years writing for members of Congress, a cabinet member and a national trade association. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts in political science, he earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania. Clinton and his family live in Kensington, Md.