Oil industry ‘malfeasance’ kills hundreds

The US oil and gas industry has been responsible for thousands of fires, explosions and leaks over the last decade, causing hundreds of deaths and widespread habitat and wildlife destruction, a new report has concluded.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says its findings underscore “petroleum company malfeasance.” It says its study, based on official data from 2000 to 2010, demonstrates the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster “is not merely an accident but an industry pattern that places profit ahead of communities, local economies, and the environment.”

The report, ‘Assault on America: A decade of petroleum company disaster, pollution, and profit,’ is based on records from the Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore drilling and was this year restructured as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE), and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Using these official sources, NWF identified 1,440 offshore leaks, blowouts, and other accidents reported between 2001-2007. In addition to environmental damage, these caused 41 deaths and 302 injuries.

The safety record for onshore activities was even more dismal. Some 2,554 pipeline accidents occurred between 2000 and 2009, killing 161 people and injuring 576.

“The oil and gas industry’s careless business approach does a clear injustice to the American people. The total cost of the status quo in lives lost and environmental damage is far too high,” said Tim Warman, executive director of the NWF’s global warming solutions programme.

“There is a better way to meet our energy needs with cleaner and safer energy sources. We should not delay with enacting policy solutions that reduce our addiction to fossil fuels.”

“You never hear of a wind farm disaster or a solar farm catastrophe,” said Warman.  “There are safer, cleaner choices.”

The NWF report comes as the US Congress debates a response to the BP disaster. It indicates the oil industry is well represented in the corridors of power.

The report notes: “The American Petroleum Institute, the trade association that represents oil and gas industries, spent $7.3 million in 2009 and $3.6 million so far in 2010 in lobbying expenditures. Direct political contributions from the oil and gas industry to members of Congress have accounted for another $13.9 million already this year.”

The report’s conclusions include a quote from Jordan Barab, second in command at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the official US workplace safety enforcer. “We are sick of the industry bragging about their safety record when children are burying their parents,” says Barab. “Obviously, the status quo is not working.”

The coming months will reveal whether the US Congress listens to its constituents or to industry dollars. Its past record does not provide much cause for optimism.

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