The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Tracking Oil Spills

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted April 12, 2011

CBS News is out today with some new and alarming numbers about oil spills. And while we were told that the data compiled by CBS is larger than our figures, it is impossible to comment on the specific findings of the CBS report since we were not allowed to see or analyze the data. We do have some information though on the methodology, and what we do know casts some serious doubts about the reliability of the data.

We were told by CBS producers that its data used various state and national sources. This is concerning as states collect data differently and many reporting mechanisms are unique to each individual state. Additionally, double counting occurs as spills reported in a state are regularly reported at the Federal level also. Finally, there are often preliminary numbers reported during the initial reporting of a spill that are regularly corrected with more accurate numbers as the spill response progresses. However, many databases are not corrected once the initial report is filed. We also understand that the CBS information includes data on 'produced water' which is treated and regulated separately to oil spills. Including that data in a study is simply not valid.

Ultimately, good reporting is more than simply collecting a bunch of disparate data and presenting it as a complete picture. The inconsistency in both the manner and method by which this data is collected demands a thorough and experienced analysis as well. We have urged CBS to validate its data by a third party such as the National Academy of Sciences.

And speaking of third party verification, our oil spill data, which is published regularly and publicly available, IS compiled and verified by an independent third party. In 2009, API compiled a report to identify the sources and quantify US oil spillage. This report covered releases through the middle of 2007, the most current data available at that time. To ensure that the content of the report was as accurate as possible, we commissioned the same third party contractor used by the National Academy of Sciences to collect and analyze data for their 2003 publication of the 'Oil in the Sea III.' The data was clear.

Now for some perspective. Proportionately, if the amount of oil produced or imported each year was equivalent to the amount of water in a backyard swimming pool, the amount spilled each year would be less than half of a teaspoon. We think that is still too much and are committed to getting to zero incidents.

Domestic production of oil and natural gas is critical to our economy, supports 9.2 million American jobs, provides billions of dollars of revenue to the government, and helps to strengthen our energy security. The oil and natural gas industry consistently demonstrates a strong safety record while providing the energy America needs. What America doesn't need is more inaccurate numbers clouding the energy conversation.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.