Monday, May 31, 2010

Energy Facility Security

I got an interesting email from a reader yesterday, a reader who is active on the Safe Pipeline Group on He pointed me at the discussion on that group about the recent explosions at a number of remote drilling site storage facilities. He was upset that it was only the Chemical Safety Board that was addressing the issue of security at these sites, especially since the CSB has no authority to require anyone to do anything about the problem. Drill Sites Not Covered Now I have briefly addressed this issue, commenting on the YouTube video that CSB had posted on the issue, over on my personal blog. I have not yet addressed the issue here because it is not a CFATS issue. Crude oil is not listed in Appendix A, nor is it an NFPR 4 flammable liquid, so it isn’t covered under the mixture rule either. Even if crude oil were a COI, these remote sites would almost certainly not be covered once the facility submitted their Top Screen; their remote locations would not make them good terrorist targets under the CFATS evaluation methodology. True, non-oil company people have been killed in accidental explosions at these sites, but that was because they were trespassing, not because they lived or worked near the site. Having said that there have been actual terrorist attacks on similar sites in Canada. None of those attacks have caused any deaths or injuries, only some property damage and that was limited to oil company property. This just goes to show that just about anything is a potential terrorist target. Higher Security Risks There are large number of energy related targets that would be a lot higher priority for general terrorist (as opposed to enviro-terrorist) attacks because they would affect larger portions of the population. A successful attack on a gasoline storage terminal would certainly have more direct effect on the local population. The way that DHS set up their mixture rule has made their attempt to regulate security at these facilities problematic. Fuel pipelines are still not regulated from the perspective of their security. TSA has been slow to regulate this area. The main reason is that the length of these pipelines makes any real security effort nearly impossible to effect. The much larger fuel related target that has yet to be regulated from a security point of view is the retail distribution side of the issue. Both fuel trucks and the commercial gas stations are essentially unprotected from terrorist attacks. Again, the cost of effective security at these facilities would be so high that the public would scream about the resulting huge increases in the price of gasoline. Can’t Protect Everything It is a truism in the security business that you can’t protect everything. There are not enough resources available and too many things require unfettered access in a free society. We have to pick and choose those things that, if attacked, would have the most significant impact on society. Having said that, I think that we do need to have a more public discussion about what parts of the energy distribution network do require additional security enhancements. While the oil industry can argue that attacks on fuel distribution facilities would have minimal off-sit physical impact, there is no doubt that such attacks would have an immediate and profound affect on the cost of gasoline. A series of such attacks by a dedicated cell of terrorists could cripple our economy. Similarly, attacks on the retail distribution end of the fuel line would have spectacularly impressive visual affects on the evening news. Enough well publicized attacks spread across the country would have the public up in arms, demanding protection. Again, the economic affects would be profound.

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