Natural gas and petroleum pipelines are relatively secure because the majority of pipeline mileage is below ground. Operators generally also have in place security measures to protect pipeline facilities from vandalism or intrusion. This includes the employment of such measures as guards, fences and electronic surveillance around facilities. Operators provide added protection against security concerns by conducting employee background checks, and carrying out communications with residents along pipeline rights-of-way, with police authorities, and with emergency responders in affected communities.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, awareness of safeguards and security needs relative to our nation’s critical infrastructure increased. OPS, along with the Department of Homeland Security and the pipeline industry began looking at ways to enhance the security of our energy pipeline infrastructure thereby ensuring that critical energy transportation was not disrupted. Enhanced communication networks were developed to share information on suspicious activities and potential threats to the pipeline infrastructure and to begin identifying noteworthy and possible enhancements to help assure the security of hazardous liquid and natural gas pipeline systems.
OPS Security Initiatives
Following 9/11/01, OPS undertook several initiatives to help reduce the increased threat of terrorist activity against pipelines:
- Building an around-the-clock rapid communication system with pipeline company CEOs and security contacts
- Alerting pipeline operators on an ongoing basis of security threats
- Establishing coordination/working arrangements with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Department of Energy (DOE), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and state agencies in all 50 states to maintain policy continuity, thereby helping to ensure conditions exist to facilitate service restoration following a third party intervention.
- Reducing public access to sensitive information on our nation’s pipeline infrastructure, including restricting access to certain information contained in the National Pipeline Mapping System
- Vulnerability Assessments
- Conducting an initial assessment of the vulnerability of our nation’s pipeline systems
- Identifying critical pipeline systems
- Developing consensus security guidance with the pipeline industry and states on conducting vulnerability assessments, improving security plans, developing specific deterrent and protective actions, and upgrading response and recovery plans.
- Obtaining executive-level commitment from pipeline operators to implement needed security provisions described in the guidance.
- Developing a definition for “critical pipeline facility” and a system of recommended deterrent and protective measures that are synchronized with the threat control levels of the Office of Homeland Security’s threat warning system
- Drafting and distributing for review by state and federal officials initial verification audit protocols
- Soliciting R&D proposals to detect encroachments, continuously monitor rights-of-ways and improve system controls
- Working with DOE and FERC to address issues related to rapid response and recovery of critical pipeline service in the case of a pipeline disturbance.
On a system-wide basis, OPS and the energy pipeline industry developed consensus guidelines, similar to those adopted by the Office of Homeland Security. Those guidelines were distributed by the industry associations, recommending that each operator: (1) assess the terrorist threats to its systems; (2) assess its systems’ vulnerabilities to these threats; and (3) develop and implement security, response and recovery plans that address terrorism.
These measures will be applied only to facilities which are designated as “critical”. Three factors determine if a facility will be defined as critical: (1) its viability as a terrorist target; (2) its importance to the nation’s energy infrastructure; and (3) the likelihood that the facility could be used as a weapon to harm people.
Federal and state regulators will work with operators to verify that plans are in place and to test their effectiveness through exercises. Operators are expected to exercise judgment in selecting measures to incorporate into their security plans since not all measures are appropriate for all facilities (e.g., unmanned facilities may require different countermeasures from those appropriate for manned facilities).
Despite these extensive efforts, there is still more that can be done to protect the American public. OPS will continue its efforts relative to pipeline security by:
- Collaborating with pipeline operators, state pipeline safety agencies, and other federal agencies to continue identifying critical facilities using the established definition of “critical pipeline facility”
- Continuing work with the DOE, FERC and other federal agencies, states and the pipeline industry to advance planning for rapid response and recovery of damaged pipeline systems. This will include identifying and resolving barriers to recovery, including the sharing of critical parts and the need for emergency authorities.
- Planning and conducting regional exercises with emphasis on response and recovery
- Continuing to work with state pipeline safety agencies to verify that pipeline operators have developed and implemented security, response and recovery plans for critical pipeline facilities
Pipeline Infrastructure Protection to Enhance Security and Safety Act
On November 15, 2002, the U.S. Congress approved the Pipeline Infrastructure Protection to Enhance Security and Safety Act (H. R. 3609). Recognized as the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 , (Public Law 107-355), it served to further strengthen regulations regarding pipeline safety and security. PHMSA is implementing actions and programs necessary to comply with the requirements under the Act.