Watchdog Finds ‘Significant’ Weakness in U.S. Pipeline Security
(Bloomberg) -- Government auditors found widespread shortfalls in how the Transportation Security Administration protects the U.S. network of pipelines carrying natural gas, petroleum products and other hazardous liquids.
A Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday said TSA’s guidelines on pipelines don’t reflect the latest best practices for physical security and cyber protections.
Action is needed to address the problem, the auditors said.
“A successful pipeline attack could have dire consequences on public health and safety, as well as the U.S. economy,” the report said. “Recent coordinated campaigns by environmental activists to disrupt pipeline operations, and the successful attempts by nation-state actors to infiltrate and obtain sensitive information from pipeline operators’ business and operating systems, demonstrate the dynamic and continuous threat to the security of our nation’s pipeline network.”
Out of the 100 top pipeline systems by volume, which were classified as the highest risk, at least 34 hadn’t done an assessment to determine their most critical facilities, GAO found.
The number of security reviews conducted by TSA has varied considerably since 2010, ranging from about 180 to fewer than 40 a year, according to the GAO report. Staffing for TSA’s Pipeline Security Branch has also been inconsistent, going from 14 positions in 2010 to only one in 2014.
In response to the report, a pipeline group said a number of initiatives had been undertaken since the study was commissioned. But the group stressed that “flexibility” is key to addressing future threats.
“Experience shows that mandatory standards are all too often outdated almost as soon as they are introduced,” Don Santa, president and chief executive officer of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said in an emailed statement.
The nation has 2.7 million miles of pipeline transporting oil, natural gas and other hazardous products, according to the report, and are “vulnerable to accidents, operating errors, and malicious physical and cyber-based attack or intrusion.”
The agency recommended improving the way the agency prioritizes security reviews, establishing a workforce plan to ensure its employees have the proper skills and seeking external peer review of its processes, among other things.
TSA’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security said it agreed with GAO’s 10 recommendations.
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