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US Energy Facilities Vulnerable to Attack - Report November 5, 2001 5:13 pm EST
By Chris Baltimore WASHINGTON (Reuters) - From the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to the Golden Gate Bridge and Boston Harbor, there is no shortage of energy-related facilities vulnerable to attack, according to a report sent on Monday to Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge.
"America's energy infrastructure is, as a whole, highly vulnerable to ... terrorist threat," the Texas law firm Bracewell & Patterson said in a 42-page analysis on the nation's energy infrastructure.
The report underscores the Herculean task before federal agencies in guarding the nation's energy installations, including nuclear reactors, oil and natural gas pipelines, and maritime tanker facilities.
It reads like a potential laundry list of targets for saboteurs, and includes the massive pipeline that moves Alaskan oil, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the Panama Canal.
Marc Racicot, a partner in the firm and the former governor of Montana, sent the report to Ridge on Monday, and was set to brief Energy Department officials. The firm represents many energy firms, but said its report was done "independent of client advice."
REGULATORY ROLLBACKS EYED
Private companies can't go it alone in the security effort, and need federal help in the form of tax incentives, low-interest financing and regulatory relief, the report said.
"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," it said.
On the regulatory front, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Department and Interior Department should cut red tape for firms that want to upgrade security, said report co-author Rob Housman, Bracewell Patterson lawyer.
Such roll-back requests are not new. Energy firms for years have clamored for relaxation of guidelines imposed by EPA and other agencies which they view as too costly and burdensome . Those requests have gained a fresh urgency after the Sept. 11 aerial attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
Regulatory changes, which would require legislative approval, should include relaxing EPA rules that require power plant and refineries to add expensive pollution controls when updating their facilities, the report said.
SPOTLIGHT ON NUCLEAR SECURITY
Security of the nation's 103 nuclear plants has been in the spotlight since the Sept. 11 attacks, because the facilities "present obvious potential for a terrorist attack of immense magnitude," the report said.
Over 280,000 people live within a 10-mile radius of the Indian Point 2 plant in New York, and radiation released in an attack there could reach New York City, it warned
National Guard fighter jets scrambled after the Sept. 11 attacks to guard airspace over the plant. But since then, security has fallen to "pre (Sept. 11) normalcy, if not outright complacency," the report said.
The report urged the U.S. Department of Defense to cooperate with state governors to create specially trained National Guard units to counter nuclear plant threats.
Results from mock-attack exercises organized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are not encouraging, the report said. Some 27 of 57 tests conducted between 1991 and 1998 allowed breaches big enough to damage the reactor core and release radioactive materials into the air, the report said.
On the cyber front, the report urged the government to crack down on information on nuclear waste shipment logistics available on the Internet.
The NRC on Oct. 11 halted Internet postings of market-sensitive plant status reports citing concerns terror groups might try to use the data to plan attacks.
Some U.S traders have expressed concern that without the information report, the electricity market may be liable to rumors and price manipulation.
MARITIME ATTACK A PRESSING CONCERN
Maritime port security is also a pressing security concern, Housman said. The report recommended more U.S. Coast Guard officers to guard ports with fast, heavily armed ships.
Meanwhile, over 750 oil-laden tankers pass beneath San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge each year, giving "ample targets for a terrorist seeking to do harm," the report said.
A repeat on U.S. shores of the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, could have "devastating consequences," it said, including environmental damage and disruption of shipping routes.
Vulnerable seaports are the Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Panama Canal, Great Lakes shipping channels and Boston Harbor's Distrigas facility for offloading liquefied natural gas.
The U.S. Coast Guard fleet "is limited in number, antiquated and lacks the technology required to effectively protect shipping ... against terrorism," the report said.
Housman said he did not think the security analysis presented a laundry list of attack targets. "Do we bury our heads and pretend that the threat isn't there ... or do we act to do something about it?" he said.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), November 05, 2001
Wait until the terrorist hit a LNG (liquified natural gas)tanker. The world trade center will look like a fire cracker in comparison.
-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), November 06, 2001.