Pipeline companies increase security around facilities

Sep 20, 2001 02:00 AM

There's little more than a padlock and a metal fence standing between the nation's oil and gas pipeline system and an attack by terrorists. After the Sept. 11 attacks, pipeline companies are increasing security around their facilities, and many have stepped up regular monitoring of pipeline stations.
Federal regulators have offered help to pay for the added protection by speeding rate hike requests for beefed-up security, but no companies have taken advantage of it yet. Pipeline companies say they have been paying closer attention to security measures because of the attacks. But it is too soon to make a decision about a rate increase.
"We have not gotten far enough down the road to put a price on it, but we are definitely in a state of heightened security," said Pat Wenty, spokeswoman for Williams pipelines. Williams has increased surveillance around its pipelines and is in a higher level of "lockdown," Wenty said. "People can't just wander onto these sites."

The Sept. 11 attacks left the nation's power and fuel supplies largely untouched. But experts say they are vulnerable. Most above-ground facilities for natural gas pipelines are guarded by little more than fences and padlocks.
"The high-pressure natural gas transmission lines have compressor stations and valves located above ground, which are the most vulnerable and the easiest to get to," said Joe Caldwell, a former director of the Office of Pipeline Safety, an arm of the US Department of Transportation. Regulations require that the valves be locked so they cannot be tampered with by "lightweight vandals," Caldwell said. But if someone were determined to cause serious damage to a pipeline, it would not be that difficult, he said.
"When it comes to terrorists, they are going to have the capability to break anything as simple as a lock," he said. Compressor stations, where natural gas is pressurized to make it flow more readily through the pipeline, are usually fenced and monitored regularly.
"That's just about it," Caldwell said. "There are no established requirements for security; it is pretty well left up to the individual operators to provide the necessary security for a pipeline." If a pipeline were attacked with an explosive, for example, the operator could shut off the flow of natural gas, oil or refined products from either side of the break.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission told companies it regulates that it will speed up consideration of increases needed to pay for improved security measures for pipelines and power plants following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Of the two, pipelines are far more vulnerable to an attack than power plants, which typically have round-the-clock security, industry experts say.
With the nation preparing for an extended worldwide conflict against terrorists, the US energy infrastructure is a vital element in supporting the effort. The Energy Department eased some gasoline standards for oil refiners to make sure there are adequate supplies of the fuel.
The Association of Oil Pipelines, a trade group for oil pipeline companies, issued a statement earlier assuring Americans that oil pipeline operators had increased security. "In some cases, pipelines have been temporarily shut down while operators reviewed security risks. None have been detected, but operators are fully prepared to act if shutdowns are necessary in the future," according to the statement.

Pipelines in the United States have never been deliberately attacked by terrorists, but elsewhere in the world it is a common occurrence. In Colombia, a major oil pipeline there is damaged so regularly that repairing it has become a cottage industry to itself.
FERC commissioners recently issued an order saying they will approve applications to recover "prudently incurred costs necessary to further safeguard the reliability and security of our energy supply and infrastructure." So far, no companies have filed any security-related rate hike requests, said Tamara Allen Young, spokeswoman for the commission in Washington, DC.
Typically, the commission has to act within 60 days of the filing of a rate hike on a natural gas pipeline but the agency has said any security-related increase would be a high priority, Young said. Indeed, many of the costs associated with improving security are expected to be related to personnel as companies try to monitor their facilities more closely.

El Paso, the nation's largest natural gas pipeline company, will not be asking for security-related increases because it is satisfied its pipelines are already secure, said Kim Wallace, spokeswoman for the Houston company. "El Paso has an emergency response plan in place to ensure security and safety on its system," Wallace said. "We feel we are doing what's necessary, and this FERC statement of policy does not apply to us. We don't feel the need for any additional security measures at this point." Enron issued a brief statement on the issue of pipeline safety following the attacks that said: "We appreciate FERC's support, and we continuously review and update our security procedures."

Source: HoustonChronicle.com
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