GREENSBORO, N.C. – Driving around from one station to another - almost nowhere has gas and you're running on E. That was our reality back in September, because of a gas leak in the pipeline.
What if it was even worse? Security experts believe terrorists are plotting to cut off our gas supply. 2 Wants To Know are we protected?
The people in charge of keeping our gas supply safe say someone digging haphazardly in the ground is more likely to cause damage to our pipelines than a terrorist. But look at past events around the world and here in the United States, it’s clear protecting our pipes is still a major concern.
Nigeria, Ukraine, Egypt. Investigators say terrorists are responsible for blowing up all of these gas pipelines. And right here at home, 2 Wants To Know found government documents showing a long history of terrorist attempts. From ‘99 when police arrested a man planning to bomb the Trans Alaska Pipeline System for personal profits in oil futures. Or 2005, when law enforcement picked up a Pennsylvania man seeking to conspire with Al Qaeda on east coast pipelines. 2007 the Department of Justice arrests members of a terrorist group wanting to bomb storage tanks outside JFK airport. Or 2011 when a man actually planted a bomb in Oklahoma – but lucky it malfunctioned and never went out. Same thing with another failed bomb in Texas a year later.
The House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee held a hearing earlier this year about the threat.
“Existing security measures did not prevent attackers,” said Paul Parfomak, Specialist in Energy and Infrastructure Policy with the Congressional Research Service.
According to Parfomak, the for nearly three million miles of pipelines in our country, the government has 15 people working to protect security. Break that down, each staff member would be responsible for almost enough pipe to go from here to the moon. So they rely on pipeline companies to help. The feds give the industry leaders security consults and recommendations like the 29 pages of Pipeline Security Guidelines from April 2011. But:
“They are voluntarily,” said Sonya Proctor, the Surface Division Director with the Transportation Security Administration. “Voluntary.”
There are no requirements companies do this stuff to protect against terrorists.
“It’s clear the current system is lacking,” said Edward Fairchild, a man with more than two decades in counter-terrorism.
He says voluntary recommendations don’t work because companies would rather have bigger profits than spend enough money on terrorist prevention.
“We’ve got to step away from this voluntary response from the industry,” Fairchild said.
Canada recently did that. Making certain pipeline protections mandatory. But in the US government inspectors say voluntary keeps good relationships with the pipeline companies.
“We have not had any gas pipeline industry partners to bulk at any of the guidelines we agreed upon,” said Proctor.
And the industry leaders say they’ll do their part.
“The security of our pipeline systems is a top priority for pipeline operators,” said Andrew Black with the Association of Oil Pipe Lines.
Colonial Pipeline that feeds right into Greensboro is also weighing in on this, sending a statement reading:
"Like all pipeline companies, we take the safety and security of our pipelines extremely seriously. We all work closely with local, state and federal agencies to ensure the safety and ongoing monitoring of the system. Pipelines are a critical part of the nation's infrastructure, and there is great care taken to vigilantly manage this important network.”
And the TSA wants to add:
“All modes of transportation are critically important in TSA’s mission. And, while aviation and airport security is a major concern and remains the primary focus of our agency based on intelligence, risk assessments and that aviation remains a primary target of terrorists, we also work closely with local and state authorities to address the entire transportation sector.”
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