The top federal energy regulator of the United States has warned against the vulnerabilities of the energy infrastructure of America in wake of the attacks on the oil facilities and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia
There could be mass blackout in the US if there is an attack on even a single US natural gas pipeline, said Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“It’s a real reminder about the importance of protecting our critical infrastructure. An outage could really have significant cascading effects,” Chatterjee said in a television interview. “And our adversaries know this.”
Natural gas has replaced coal as the primary source of fuel for production of power and the national grid of the US is very dependent on availability of natural gas – which has seen a boom because of shale production. This situation has created a security vulnerability for the US even though this shift has also helped to reduce environmental impact of power generation because of the use of a less polluting fuel for power generation.
“Twenty years ago, a single generator might not have even flinched if a pipeline went down,” said Chatterjee, who was nominated to FERC by President Donald Trump in May 2017. “Today, we have eight or nine generators depending on a single gas pipeline.”
The concerns were further increased by the attack on oil installations in Saudi Arabia on September 14 even though the country has installed security measures to protect its oil facilities at great costs. Despite that, about half of the production capacity of the kingdom was wiped out by the drone and missile strikes on Saudi Aramco’s two oil refining facilities.
That incident has raised concerns about shortage of supply of crude to the global market which significantly increased the crude prices in the global market.
“It’s a real reminder about the importance of protecting our critical infrastructure,” Chatterjee said.
The role of the FERC is to review and permit pipelines and is an independent agency run by bipartisan commissioners. Maintaining the safety and security of those pipelines is the responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration.
There are almost 3 million miles of pipeline in the United States that carry natural gas, oil and other hazardous materials and there are concerns about the safety and security and the resources being devoted to protecting those pipelines.
“Weaknesses” in TSA’s pipeline security program including an acute shortage of staff which limits the capacity of the agency to conduct security reviews, have been found and identified by the Government Accountability Office.
Last year, there were just six full-time employees in the pipeline security branch, the GAO found out. Compared to that, there were 14 such employees in 2014.
“Interstate pipelines run through remote areas and highly populated urban areas, and are vulnerable to accidents, operating errors, and malicious physical and cyber-based attack or intrusion,” the GAO said.
The increased susceptibility to both physical and cyber attacks is the greatest threat that is currently faced by America’s energy infrastructure, Chatterjee said. “Our adversaries know these are vulnerable targets,” he said.
(Adapted from CNN.com)