Friday, March 16, 2012

Gasoline Theft Probably Not Terror Related

There is an interesting chemical theft story over on about the bulk gasoline theft from three retail stores in New York. It seems that someone drove a tank truck into three separate closed-for-the-night gasoline stations and pumped gasoline out of the in-ground tanks into the tanker. Given the high cost of gasoline (apparently $6.40/gal in NY; $6400 for 1000 gallons) this was almost certainly an economic crime not a terror related incident, but…..

Bulk Gasoline as a Terror Weapon

Much to the chagrin of some of my reader’s in the petroleum distribution industry, I have long maintained that gasoline is a much underestimated potential terrorist weapon due to its flammability and potential explosive nature. Unloading a tank wagon of gasoline into a high-profile target like a shopping mall or church could possibly create an impressive explosion, but at the very least would result in a catastrophic fire.

Parking tank wagons underneath freeway overpasses during rush hours and igniting the material would certainly produce an impressive fire and news reports have shown that the heat damage caused by such prolonged fires can damage overpass structures to the point that they are unusable. Hit two or three key overpasses and you can paralyze an urban area for weeks or months.

Finally (for this short list of examples, this is clearly not an exhaustive list), if you can place a hose in a tank to pump it out you can emplace an explosive device. It wouldn’t take too much of a bomb to turn the tank into a flame projection weapon endangering an entire neighborhood.

Gasoline Security

The gasoline distribution industry is another large group that has demanded, and in many cases received, special attention in the CFATS process. They have semi-successfully argued that since a gasoline explosion is so hard to create (and there are certainly a number of technical hurdles that a terrorist would have to overcome to turn a fuel tank farm into a fuel-air explosion) that they deserve special consideration when ISCD makes a determination that the facility is or is not a ‘high-risk’ facility under CFATS definitions. And retail gasoline facilities are not even required to complete Top Screens unless they have some other chemical of interest on site in excess of the screening threshold quantity.

Both DHS and industry have ignored the theft potential of gasoline as a portable terrorist flame weapon. Some have pointed to the difficulty of stealing gasoline in bulk, but articles like this show just how easily it can be done.

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