Responsible for the creation of more than 800 standards and recommended practices throughout the U.S. oil and natural gas industry, the American Petroleum Institute (API) is one of world’s most respected associations.
In the United States, close to 11 million jobs are linked to the gas and oil industry. With approximately 600 members, the American Petroleum Institute has represented this vital sector for over a century.
So important and effective are these standards that they’re not limited to use in just the U.S. With the goal of enhancing operational safety, sustainability and environmental protection industry-wide, API’s canon of standards is used worldwide.
Continually revised and updated with new editions, these standards and technical documents are developed by API and industry experts. API’s rigorous process is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)—meaning they abide by practices to enhance transparency and consensus, and use the best available science. Plus, documents undergo review at least every five years.
“We review our standards on a rolling basis to make sure they are still applicable and relevant for the industry,” says API’s Alexa Burr, Vice President, Standards and Segment Services in the Global Industry Services (GIS) Division. In her current role for over three years, Burr was previously the association’s Director of System Programs, GIS, and responsible for many assessment and safety-based programs, which draw upon API’s library of standards.
Prior to coming to the American Petroleum Institute, she spent seven years with the American Chemistry Council (ACC)—the nation’s oldest trade association—where she worked on global regulatory and technical issues, leading international advocacy efforts, and also the ACC’s Responsible Care® program, a voluntary initiative driving safe practices in chemical management and environmental health, safety, security and sustainability.
Also in Burr’s portfolio is the standards development department, responsible for developing and maintaining API’s portfolio of standards; the intellectual property and distribution group, who sell and distribute standards around the world; and work with the industry “to make sure we are digitizing our standards and meeting our members’ needs and how they receive our standards.”
Another key initiative of the API is its statistics group. Responsible for the collection of data relating to both safety performance and general industry performance, information is used to produce the Weekly Statistical Bulletin (WSB), which publishes accurate petroleum data every Tuesday afternoon and has existed since 1929. “Our goal is to enhance the industry operational performance through the use of API programs and standards around the world—helping the industry perform safely and sustainably,” says Burr, who also oversees the association’s global strategy.
The American Petroleum Institute was founded in 1919, just after World War I, and based in New York City before relocating to Washington, D.C. in 1969.
The pressures of the war itself were among the reasons for the organization focusing on developing industry standards, with the first being published in 1924. The American petroleum industry had put its considerable strength behind the war effort in Europe, but there were continual stoppages and slowdowns in vital operations at drilling sites because of equipment shortages and mismatches.
“There wasn’t a uniform standard for things like pipes, threads, and coupling,” says Burr, “so API took on the challenge of developing industry-wide standards for equipment, making sure equipment made in the U.S. could be used in Europe and vice versa, to help improve performance. That’s how we started as an actual standards-setting organization.”
And in the decades to come, API would develop hundreds and hundreds of standards and recommended practices for all segments of the industry, from upstream oil and gas exploration and production to midstream transportation, downstream petrochemicals and refining, and manufacturing and supply.
One of API’s recent initiatives on behalf of the petroleum sector was the release of its Climate Action Framework (www.api.org/climate) in 2021. The global need for more energy comes when the world’s population is growing—projected to rise to almost 10 billion by 2050—and the push toward a lower-carbon future is “massive, intertwined and fundamental,” according to the API.
Addressing the growing energy needs of the future and the need to simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, the API has created a five-point action plan.
This plan aims to accelerate technology and innovation to reduce emissions while meeting growing energy needs; further mitigate emissions from operations to advance additional environmental progress; endorse a carbon price policy by government to drive economy-wide, market-based solutions; advance cleaner fuels to provide lower-carbon choices for consumers; and drive climate reporting to provide consistency and transparency.
The plan’s focusing effect on the industry has come none too soon because it’s projected that, by 2040, natural gas and oil will still remain lead providers of the world’s energy with a share of 46 percent, followed by other renewables at 18 percent, then hydro (13 percent), coal (10 percent), nuclear (nine percent), and bioenergy (four percent).
“This is a robust, comprehensive policy framework that talks about what the industry and the government can do to address climate change while continuing to meet the growing energy needs of the world,” says Burr. “This is a significant step forward for the API and the industry.”
Another program that showcases the industry’s commitment to sustainability and safe operations is API Energy Excellence® (www.api.org/oil-and-natural-gas/api-energy-excellence).
Consisting of 13 core elements, including Leadership Commitment to Operational Integrity, Safe Work Management, and Stakeholder Engagement, the elements apply to members’ operations, and drive operational improvement, including safety, environmental protections, sustainability and security.
“It’s a management system framework that commits every single API member company to implementing and achieving progress against the 13 core elements of API Energy Excellence,” comments Burr. “We are building on our long history of standards development, and help the industry move forward with improvements in our operational integrity, as well as make progress against the challenge of climate change.”
Although many may think that the American Petroleum Institute’s 600-strong membership consists mainly of large, multi-national companies, most API members are small and medium-sized companies of about 50 to 250 employees, many of them in supply and manufacturing. These include inspection companies who perform audits on some larger operators, independent upstream companies, and multinationals, representing all segments of the industry.
Considering the global use of its standards and programs, API has been working to extend its partner networks globally. “We work closely with many other global partners, especially on the environment, health, and safety side of things,” says Burr.
However, to be eligible for API membership, companies must be based in North America, and have some relation to the oil and gas industry.
Despite the petroleum sector’s vital role in powering the world, misconceptions still exist. Some forget the contribution the industry makes to quality of life in the United States.
“Many countries around the world don’t have access to electricity and energy like we do,” says Burr. “In many developing countries around the world, if you talk about turning on the light switch, folks don’t necessarily know what that means.”
From providing the energy used to heat our homes and power our businesses to manufacturing everything from cosmetics to cars, petroleum continues to shape the world, and API continues to support its members who are the ones producing this vital energy and related products—delivering standards to enhance energy efficiency and operational efficiency, while protecting the environment and the health and safety of industry workers.
As the world moves toward low-carbon technologies, some API members are exploring low-carbon technologies and renewables to add to the energy mix.
“We know that going forward, oil and gas is going to be part of that energy mix,” comments Burr, “but we are going to have to add in other renewables and low-carbon technologies like hydrogen and CCUS [carbon capture, utilization and storage] to help meet the energy demands we are facing,” she says.
“The world population is growing at a very significant rate, and we need affordable energy to meet those population demands, many coming from emerging countries that don’t currently have the energy access they need to support their population.”
Looking at how the industry can help commercialize new technologies and accelerate technologies like hydrogen and low-carbon liquid CO2, the API and its members are helping leverage the lessons learned from traditional oil and gas operations to new technologies that commercialize them.
On the wind front, the API is working with another association, the non-profit Offshore Operators Committee (OOC), to explore standards and offshore wind structures in the U.S., and how to develop and apply them to the industry.
With a long history of prioritizing safety and innovation throughout the petroleum industry, the API will continue supporting member efforts such as low-carbon emissions; advancing sustainability and safety initiatives in oil and gas operations; and ensuring members are diversifying their workforce throughout the industry.
This includes the development, in recent years, of programs to support the industry’s workforce. API has a program with minority-serving institutions where the association provides its full library of standards free of charge to help their engineering students become familiar with API standards even before they graduate, giving them a leg up when they enter the workforce.
With a century-long legacy, the American Petroleum Institute is known worldwide for its commitment to the industry, especially its many standards, and for prioritizing safety and environmental protection of workers and communities. By working with regional offices that have local connections, the API continues to educate and lead the global industry.
In schools, the association gets kids familiar with the industry and its benefits at an early age. And outside the U.S, the API partners with other industry trade associations to increase the use of API’s standards to help the global industry perform safely and sustainably.
“We’ve done a lot to broaden our global footprint and will continue to do that and advance our industry’s safety performance,” says Burr.