Oil Industry Seeks Federal Help Against Terror

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November 5, 2001

Oil Industry Seeks Federal Help Against Terror


ASHINGTON, Nov. 4 It was not a terrorist act, just a drunken hunter with a rifle who shot a hole in the Alaska pipeline last month. Nonetheless, he disrupted the flow of 286,000 gallons of oil for three days and raised doubts about the ability to both protect the 800-mile pipeline from attack and maintain its flow of oil.

Energy companies are aware of the threat terrorists pose and they are seeking help from the government to make themselves less vulnerable.

Bracewell & Patterson, a Washington law firm that represents several energy companies, set out to explore the extent of security that existed for such companies and what needed to be done to improve it. A result is a 42-page overview of the state of energy security in America and how various facilities are vulnerable to terrorist attack. Marc Racicot, the former governor of Montana and a partner in the firm, plans to give the report to Tom Ridge, director of homeland security, on Monday.

"The more we studied this, the more important in our minds it became to present what is out there," said Rob Housman, a lawyer at the firm and the report's principal author.

The report makes several recommendations to the government. It calls for tax credits and low-cost financing to help the industry improve security. It says the government should eliminate the "regulatory impediments" that it says preclude the industry from building plants that could withstand a terrorist attack, and it calls for the withholding of safety information that the government now requires companies to make available on the Internet.

Like the airline industry, the energy companies also want some liability and insurance protections. And they want to be able to file "security impact statements," which can presumably override the "environmental impact statements" that often result in expensive pollution controls they did not want in the first place.

They also expect protection that only the government can provide, like the National Guard patrolling their airspace, specially trained Guard units protecting them on the ground, the government sharing its intelligence to try to prevent attacks and the Coast Guard helping to protect ports and off-shore rigs.

Already, the government has moved to protect airspace over nuclear power plants.

"Obviously, when we look at targets nationally that are potentially vulnerable, one of the first places you would be looking would be to your nuclear facilities owned by both the Defense Department and the public in general," Mr. Ridge said on Friday.

"There is a universe of potentials that we have to deal with," he added. "Unfortunately, in the business we're in, we have to deal with the `What if?' "

The new report will give him even more to ponder.

The nation has about 19,000 miles of interstate natural gas pipelines, and 200,000 miles of transmission lines. Terrorist attacks on any of these lines could cause power failures, environmental and economic damage, and threats to human life.

"Depending on the nature of the attack," the report says, "an energy infrastructure attack in an urban area could expose from hundreds to even hundreds of thousands of people to serious harms, ranging from radiation to toxic clouds to massive explosions."

The report notes that the Alaska pipeline has been perceived for years as an especially vulnerable target. It carries 20 percent of the nation's crude oil, and half of the pipeline about 400 miles lies above ground in unpopulated areas.

A report in 1997 by the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection found pipelines like this one "a huge, attractive and largely unprotected target array for saboteurs." But, the Bracewell & Patterson report notes, "little has been done to address this risk."

The report explores other potential threats, like those posed to oil tankers, oil refineries and power grids from the ground, the air and cyberspace.

Mr. Housman said that "not every inch" of pipeline or transmission line needed protection but that the current level of security was inadequate.

"No private-sector company has the wherewithal to defeat a terrorist threat on the order of a hijacked airplane turned missile or a weapon of mass destruction," the report says. "Moreover, the types of governmental assistance required to combat such threats go far beyond the current levels of support now being provided."

As to concerns that the energy industry could use security to ride roughshod over current regulations, Mr. Housman said that industry had to be careful "not to cry wolf."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 04, 2001


The Alaska pipeline carries 550,000 barrels a day. At one time it moved 1,000, 000 barrels per day.

-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), November 05, 2001.

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