Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Fossil Fuels: A Legacy of Disaster for Workers and the Environment
Press Release

RELEASE: Fossil Fuels: A Legacy of Disaster for Workers and the Environment

Press Contacts

  • Christina DiPasquale

By Daniel J. Weiss, Valeri Vasquez | April 19, 2011

To read the full column, click here.

To view the interactive map, click here.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On the one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil blowout and the Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia, the Center for American Progress released “Fossil Fuels: A Legacy of Disaster,” with an accompanying interactive map—“Fossil Fuel Accidents in the United States,” by Daniel J. Weiss and Valeri Vasquez. A large cost of our reliance on these energy sources is the death or injury of workers in these industries, and these two disasters serve as a reminder of how dangerous our dependence on fossil fuels can be, while underscoring the importance of transitioning to cleaner energy technologies, such as solar and wind, for worker safety in advance of OSHA’s 40th anniversary this Thursday.

Fossil fuel industries come with many costs, including environmental damage and harm to human health. But the workers in these industries also face dangerous working conditions that can lead to injury and even death. The interactive map shows that since 1968 thousands of workers have been injured or killed working in coal mines, oil refineries, and on natural gas pipelines. The map also gives information on environmental damage to states including cleanup costs and billions of barrels of oil spilled.

The toll of fossil fuels on human health and the environment is well documented. According to Department of Labor data, there have been 77 fatalities and 7,550 injuries at onshore and offshore oil production facilities since 1968 and spills related to these accidents totaled 7.5 million barrels of oil, causing billions of dollars of economic and environmental damage. Natural gas pipeline accidents have resulted in 892 accidents and 6,258 injuries since 1970, though touted as a cleaner and safer alternative to coal and oil.

Our dependence on fossil fuels exacts a very high price on the people who extract or process these fuels and these work environments remain unsafe, despite thousands of deaths and injuries. This report recommends that OSHA take the following steps to protect workers, as outlined in the 2007 CAP report “Governing by the Numbers:”

  • Close gaps in knowledge by harnessing new technologies to collect, analyze and disseminate key data
  • Focus on results by setting quantitative, outcome-focused goals, measuring policy performance, and comparing results among peers
  • Develop systems to ensure data are used to guide policy priorities and solutions

Accurate data and thorough analysis is impossible, however, without sufficient funding. OSHA received $35 million in the fiscal year 2010 enacted budget to collect and evaluate workplace Safety and Health Statistics. In the newly enacted FY 2011 continuing resolution, $34.9 million was cut, deleting funds for the rest of the fiscal year. To protect fossil fuel and other workers from death and injury, OSHA must have the resources it needs to set and enforce standards, and provide compliance assistance and training to aid risky workplaces. More funds for more frequent inspections of fossil fuel and other very hazardous workplaces are also essential to increase protection for the men and women in these dangerous fossil fuel industries.

To read the full column, click here.

To view the interactive map, click here.

To speak to Daniel J. Weiss, CAP Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202-481-8181 or