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Pipeline Safety and Security Needs to be Improved, Reports Say

Pipeline Safety and Security Needs to be Improved, Reports Say Homeland Security TodayThe Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has begun, but not completed, efforts to improve pipeline safety in response to prior recommendations made by Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits, Susan A. Fleming, director of Physical Infrastructure Issues for GAO, recently told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security.

In its reports, GAO made seven recommendations to the Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve pipeline safety data and guidance and to move forward with proposed rulemaking to address safety risks. GAO recommended, for example, that DOT move forward with proposed rulemaking to address risks from newer gathering pipelines.

“DOT is taking actions to respond to the recommendations,” Fleming said.

In 2012, GAO found that while gathering pipelines that are not regulated by PHMSA “were generally considered to present less safety risk than other pipelines, PHMSA did not collect comprehensive data to identify such risks,” Fleming told the subcommittee. “GAO concluded that such data could help pipeline safety officials and pipeline operators increase the safety of these pipelines by better identifying and quantifying safety risks.”

“In 2014,” Fleming said, “GAO found that construction of larger, higher-pressure gathering pipelines had increased due to the increased production of oil and gas, raising safety concerns because an incident could affect a greater area than an incident from a smaller, lower-pressure pipeline. PHMSA plans to issue proposed rules in fall 2015 that include collecting data on unregulated gathering pipelines.”

With regard to pipeline operator incident response, Fleming said, “In January Pipeline Safety and Security Needs to be Improved, Reports Say Homeland Security Today2013, GAO found that PHMSA’s data on operators’ incident response times were not reliable, limiting the agency’s ability to move to a performance-based approach for incident response. Improved data would allow PHMSA to determine appropriate response times for different types of pipelines, based on location and other factors. PHMSA plans to require changes in operator reporting to improve its incident response data and develop a performance-based standard as part of an upcoming rulemaking.”

On the matter of gas pipeline assessments, Fleming told lawmakers that, “In June 2013, GAO found that a requirement for gas transmission pipeline operators to reassess the integrity of their pipelines every 7 years provided a safeguard that issues were regularly addressed, but was not fully consistent with risk-based practices. A risk-based approach based on individual pipeline characteristics could call for assessments to occur more or less frequently than 7 years. However, implementing intervals longer than 7 years could require additional inspection resources to verify that operators appropriately assessed risk. GAO also found that guidance for calculating assessment intervals was lacking. PHMSA plans to issue guidance in 2016 and is researching the feasibility of risk-based assessments occurring less frequently than every 7 years.”

Terrorist attacks on energy-related targets in particular — especially oil and gas distribution pipelines — could cause significant economic damage and considerable disruptions to everyday life … potentially across the globe.

According to the research brief, Terrorism Trends with a Focus on Energy and Mining, prepared by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) Global Terrorism Database, attacks on energy infrastructure — not specifically pipelines — “were most prevalent in the 1980s.

During that decade, the START report said, an average of 8 percent of all attacks were on this type of target each year, with more than 10 percent of all attacks targeting energy and mining-related entities in 1984 and 1985.”

However, the study also said that, “The number of attacks on these targets increased dramatically in 2013 and 2014, as the number of attacks in 2014 surpassed the total for any year in the 1980s. However, these only accounted for 3 percent of all terrorist attacks. In fact, attacks on energy and mining-related targets increased from 2013 to 2014 than the general increase of terrorist incidents across all targets.”

“As is the case with terrorism in general, attacks on energy- and mining-related targets are geographically concentrated,” START’s report said. “From 2010-2014, Pakistan experienced almost as many attacks (439) as the next three countries, Yemen (170), Colombia (161) and Iraq (146) combined. The Philippines, with 73 attacks, rounds out the top five.”

Noteably, “Attacks on energy- and mining-related infrastructure by groups with religiously based ideologies increased in prevalence in the 21st century, with most of these attacks being carried out by Islamist extremists,” the report stated.

As far back as August 1979, GAO warned “pipelines … are highly vulnerable to disruptions caused by human error, sabotage, or nature,” and that “damage to facilities on just a few pipeline systems could greatly reduce domestic shipments, causing an energy shortage exceeding that of the 1973 Arab oil embargo — an event that led to extreme gas shortages, waiting lines at petro stations, draconian energy conservation decrees and a national 55-mile per-hour speed limit that took decades to reverse.”

“Despite the fact that only 28 percent of American oil was imported during the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the supply cut’s effect on the American economy was profound. Oil prices quadrupled in a matter of weeks, unemployment doubled, and the national product declined six percent,” Dr. Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), a Washington based think tank focused on energy security, told Homeland Security Today in November 2007.

Also a senior adviser to the United States Energy Security Council, a cabinet level extra-governmental advisory committee, Luft said at the time that, “Today, with over half of American oil imported, if a chunk of global oil production is disabled by an attack on a major oil installation or chokepoint, the consequences will likely be worse … every facility is a potential target.”

Luft pointed out that attacks on oil infrastructure “is a growing phenomenon, and that’s not a good sign.”

Indeed. Jihadi terrorist groups have consistently tried to impact the global oil economy by attacking infrastructure, and, like Al Qaeda, have repeatedly called for attacks on oil and gas facilities and infrastructure around the world, especially in the Middle East, the West and in America.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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