Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pipeline Security Hearing

The Management, Investigations, and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee held a field hearing yesterday to look at the issues surrounding pipeline security. The hearing was held in Plant City, Hillsborough County, Florida in the home district of the ranking member of the Subcommittee, Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis. It is unfortunate that these field hearings are not normally web cast. Looking at the written testimony submitted by the seven witnesses it may have been an interesting meeting. The written testimony provides some interesting insights into pipeline security issues. There were three federal witnesses (TSA, PHMSA, and the Congressional Research Service), one industry representative, and three local emergency response officials from Hillsborough County agencies. Current Pipeline Security Program Dr. Parformak, Congressional Research Service, provided a thorough review of the current state of the Federal government’s pipeline security… oversight in his testimony. I really wanted to say regulation, but he makes clear that there are no current or planned regulations for securing fuel, natural gas, or hazardous material pipelines against potential terrorist attack, nor is there any Congressional mandate or authorization for such regulations. Parformak notes that at current funding levels, the 13 authorized personnel in TSA’s Pipeline Security Division, are hard pressed to complete the Corporate Security Reviews that constitute the closest thing to regulatory action that the Department has for pipeline security. Since the CSR program was instituted in 2003, the PSD has only visited 100 of the over 1300 pipeline companies in the United States. He describes a CSR visit this way: “TSA typically sends one to three staff to hold a three to four hour interview with the operator’s security representatives followed by a visit to only one or two of the operator’s pipeline assets” (pg 6). Jack Fox, General Manager of TSA’s Pipeline Security Division, in his testimony describes a Pipeline Corporate Security Review (PCSR) visit this way: “PCSRs have enabled TSA to build relationships with pipeline operators to assess their corporate security plans and programs and to provide them with recommendations [emphasis added] for improvement” (pg 3).He agrees with the 100 companies visited, calling them the “Top 100 pipeline systems” and noted that they have started to re-visit those systems. He also notes that the Division has worked with its Canadian counterpart to conduct joint visits similar to the PCSR at the six largest ‘cross-border’ pipelines (25% of the total number). In addition to these assessment visits, Fox notes that the Division has produced a 30-minute security awareness training CD and published a Pipeline Security Smart Practices document. He describes that document as a “qualitative and quantitative examination of data from PCSRs, coupled with literature research regarding pipeline security measures and consultation with the pipeline industry, [that] identified smart practices operators can implement to promote an effective security program” (pg 3). Gary L. Forman, Chairman of the Pipeline Sector Coordinating Council, provides a summary of the current situation from the industry perspective in his testimony. His view is more positive than Dr. Performak’s, but it is instructive, none the less. He provides one of the most concise and complete descriptions of the ‘security process’ that I have ever seen on page four of his testimony. It is well worth reading; lacking only one component, oversight. Pipeline Security Problems The testimony of these four gentlemen would have made the field hearing interesting enough, but that could have been done back in Washington. What made the field hearing more interesting was the testimony from the members of the second panel; a representatives of the Sherriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue, and Emergency Management for Hillsborough County, Florida. These were people that had dealt with three major pipeline incidents in recent years, including a vandalism incident in November 2007 where two juveniles punctured an anhydrous ammonia pipeline looking for money. Typical of most hazmat pipelines this one runs a relatively short distance (30 miles) between a storage facility (in this case at Port Sutton where it is off-loaded from ocean going vessels) to manufacturing facilities further inland. These pipelines are typically owned by chemical manufacturers, importers or local pipeline companies. They don’t fall within the ‘top 100’ pipeline companies visited by TSA’s Pipeline Security Division. All three of the local witnesses describe improvements that have been made in the local security and emergency response planning since the November 2007 incident. The anhydrous ammonia pipeline owner has placed additional jacketing around all exposed sections of the pipeline to make them more resistant to attack. There have been significant planning and educational improvements made to allow for a more effective response to a pipeline incident. But, they each point to more that needs to be done. Larry Gispert, the Director of Hillsborough County Emergency Management, would like to see more contact between TSA’s PSD and his office. He also notes in his testimony that the limited staff of the PSD includes “two managers and four branch chiefs” (pg 2); that doesn’t leave much in the way of inspectors. He also notes the dichotomy of approaches for the two federal agencies looking at pipelines; “you have one agency [PHMSA] who’s goal is to make the location of buried pipelines as visible as possible so no one accidentally digs them up and another agency [TSA-PSD] that would like to make them invisible so no one can intentionally blow them up” (pg 3). Col. Ed Duncan, of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, complains in his testimony that “no federal, state or local agency has clear regulatory authority to impose security requirements on companies involved in the production and transportation of chemicals through public areas” (pg 3). He would like to see the TSA be given the authority to ““establish and enforce” such security rules. Assistant Chief Ron Rogers, of the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, has an even more basic problem. In his testimony Rogers notes that during the 2007 incident his people could not allow the pipeline company technicians into the hot zone at the leak because they lacked the documentation that they were appropriately trained and certified in hazmat operations. He would like to see the pipeline company be made responsible for providing Medical Surveillance and hazmat technician training documentation to the Local Emergency Planning Committee. Moving Forward Chairman Carney (D, PA) opened the hearing by stating that “Given the frequency of pipeline-related incidents that occur throughout the country, coupled with the extent of both human and economic loss that could result from these incidents, it may be wise to consider whether the systems should have written regulations.” Given the testimony provided at this hearing, I think we have come far past the ‘it may be wise’ point; we are certainly at the ‘it would be prudent to require and adequately enforce written regulations’ point. Hopefully Chairman Carney and Chairman Thompson will agree; the emergency response community in Plant City, Fl certainly would.

No comments:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */