Protecting the environment while producing, transporting, refining and marketing fuel is a challenge the petroleum industry must meet every day. For all of the benefits oil has brought to modern society, risk is inherent in taking it from the Earth -- in drilling wells, storing fuel for future use and transporting it from place to place. API member companies try their hardest every day to minimize these risks.Oil is a natural substance -- the beneficial uses of oil were discovered when natural seeps were found to have amazing uses. Called "burning springs," native Americans would skim oil from the surface of these magic streams and make torches of fabric dipped in the substance.
While seeps are natural, we have an obligation to protect nature from accidental oil spills from our operations that can damage an ecosystem. The petroleum industry is working closely with government agencies, universities and research centers to reduce the frequency and impact of oil spills. As a result of new operating procedures and research into advanced technologies, the industry has made tremendous progress in preventing spills over the past decade.
In 1997, the latest year that Coast Guard statistics are complete, the volume of oil spilled in U.S. waters declined by two-thirds compared to the year before, representing the lowest amount recorded since the Coast Guard began publishing data in 1973. And more than three-fourths of those spills were under 10 gallons -- less than a car's fuel tank holds.
Even as the industry strives to reduce the number and size of oil spills still further, we've also learned a lot over the past decade about the best way to respond when, despite all of our precautions, a spill does occur.
Since the passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the petroleum industry has invested nearly $17 billion in oil spill prevention and response. When a spill occurs, various government agencies and industry start to imm