Pipeline Cybersecurity A Local and National Priority

A memo leaked earlier in the year uncovered that the Department of Energy was considering a bailout for failing nuclear and coal plants, claiming a unique cybersecurity robustness not shared by natural gas pipeline systems.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) recently countered and clarified that cybersecurity remains a top priority for the natural gas industry. Proclaiming coal and nuclear plants to be more secure than their natural gas and oil counterparts is simply untrue.

In fact, many processes and standards are shared amongst natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants. Though it must be acknowledged that natural gas and oil industries uniquely benefit from robust private-public partnerships with the DOE, DHS, and FBI. As a result, cybersecurity is continuously improving thanks to a constant feedback loop from these relationships – exemplified in the layers of electronic and mechanical security measures industry wide.

API’s report indicates that cyberattacks increased 20% between 2014 and 2015; an increase was also recorded from 2015 to 2016. Of these attacks an estimated 1 in 5 specifically targeted the energy sector. The growing role natural gas plays in supporting the United States’ energy grid means pipeline cybersecurity is now a matter of national security.

Because Pennsylvania is home to an ever growing network of natural gas pipelines including Mariner East, Mariner East 2, and the Revolution system efforts should be taken at state levels to contribute to maximizing the security of these pipelines.

Pipeline opposition in Pennsylvania has previously acted to halt the construction and operation of pipelines by tampering with machinery, valve stations, materials, or baiting local wildlife into pipeline construction zones as environmental activist Ellen Gerhart has done. All of these actions unnecessarily increase pipeline vulnerability.

To combat this the Pennsylvania legislature can pass legislation like Senate Bill 652 – introduced to strengthen the consequences of tampering and trespassing on public infrastructure projects. Considering the critical role natural gas systems occupy in the national energy grid a strict punishment for endangering the grid is fully justified.

The abundance of natural resources Pennsylvania has access to will be used for decades to support the state and country’s energy grid as well as push the United States’ global energy dominance. Though Senate Bill 652 lapsed in the Pennsylvania legislature a top priority should be placed on ensuring pipeline security from local threats in the interest of preserving cybersecurity following the coming midterm elections.

Facts Must Be Acknowledged Before Ideology

Opposition to Mariner East 2 has moved from local Pennsylvania communities and into the pages of The New Yorker. Over the weekend an article from the outlet compounded on opposition narrative against Mariner East 2 but left many important facts unmentioned:

  • The Mariner East 2 pipeline is subject to rigorous permitting and safety standards including oversight from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Sunoco has remained committed to going above and beyond all safety standards throughout Mariner East 2 construction and operation.
  • 9,500 construction related jobs have been created annually during the construction process. In turn, Pennsylvania has collected upwards of $100 million dollars in taxes stemming from construction spending across the state. In all, an expected $9.1 billion will be spent in Pennsylvania throughout the construction of Mariner East 2.
  • Sunoco has conducted nearly 200 public information sessions to educate the public on the pipeline, receive resident feedback, and accommodate all needs of Pennsylvania communities.
  • Pipelines are the consensus safest transportation method for liquefied natural gas and Mariner East 2 uses the most state of the art technologies to bring safety to unmatched standards.

Mariner East 2 is a key component for Pennsylvania to realize its energy potential. Opposition groups have spun misinformation into fear in hopes of halting the project. Ignoring the facts is counterproductive to promoting public safety and undermines what local, state, and federal regulators have worked so diligently to do – ensure Mariner East 2 safely serves the Pennsylvania public.

Taxpayer Money Going to Fund Pipeline Opposition Groups

Recent work by investigative outlet, Inside Sources, shows taxpayer money was distributed from a Department of Transportation program to pipeline opposition groups. Records also suggest that leaders of pipeline opposition groups may have personally benefited from the taxpayer money.

TAG Grants, awarded by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), were halted in 2016 following another report from Inside Sources showing “…TAG is continuing to award grants to anti-pipeline groups in violation of its Congressional mandate.” It seems PHMSA is now back to using the same tactics:

“One of the grant recipients in the FY2018 program is the Pipeline Safety Coalition, which was given $99,938 to establish a ‘community safety awareness network’ in Pennsylvania. The Pipeline Safety Coalition has received more than $1.1 million through the TAG program in the past, despite having filed public comments against major pipeline projects in Pennsylvania.”

PHSMA admits to deeming TAG grants “low risk” but have not upheld their responsibility to ensure the money “…may not be used for lobbying, for direct advocacy for or against a pipeline construction or expansion project, or in direct support of litigation.” By providing pipeline opposition groups with funding to create and dictate misinformed narratives about pipeline projects in Pennsylvania.

The distribution of taxpayer money in Pennsylvania through TAG grants looks increasingly partisan and misappropriated after Inside Sources uncovered $50,000 awarded to the Pipeline Safety Coalition, led by Lynda Farrell, in 2012. Five months later, records show $30,000 of the award was spent at ‘Blue Heron Consulting’ – a small nonprofit run and operated out of the home of Lynda Farrell.

Distribution of TAG grant money to partisan, anti-infrastructure advocates like Lynda Farrell goes against the intent of the program. Farrell has been a known opponent to necessary infrastructure projects in the past, but somehow continues to win these grants, which pay for her anti-infrastructure agenda. What has not been proven is whether or not Ms. Farrell plans to comply with grant stipulations on this round of funding. She never proved that the funding was used accordingly in the past.

It is disappointing to see a regulator responsible for ensuring the public’s safety distribute taxpayer money so recklessly to opposition groups that only spread fear.

Sunoco and PA DEP Honor Responsibilities with Grants

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently issued 61 grants to 14 different Pennsylvania counties for local infrastructure projects related to water quality, watershed restoration and stormwater management. This news is further confirmation that Sunoco and the Pennsylvania DEP remain committed to their responsibilities

Any permit violations issued against Sunoco also featured a monetary component. While the process for determining the amount is unknown Sunoco was very forthcoming in honoring this feature of their contract and willingly sent the DEP $12.6 million to be dispersed at their discretion. The DEP has decided to split the money amongst various townships in 14 of the 17 counties Mariner East 2 transverses.

DEP Secretary, Patrick McDonnell, was quoted in an article:

“…it is nice that this penalty could be put directly towards other deserving improvement projects in the communities along the right-of-way,”

It is equally encouraging to see Sunoco hold their end of the bargain by remedying any violations, bolstering safety standards and honoring their commitments. This news is proof that regulators and corporations working in tandem can benefit all parties involved. The Pennsylvania DEP has done a great job ensuring the regulatory process is effective.

Supreme Court Denies Pipeline Opponents Appeals

Two anti-pipeline court appeals were denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday. The appeals, filed by anti – pipeline groups sought to stop construction of Mariner East 2 citing infringements on zoning and land development ordinances.

The decision by the Supreme Court comes as no surprise as regulatory and judiciary bodies have repeatedly found the Mariner East 2 project to be in compliance with laws and ordinances at every level. In April the Commonwealth Court issued an opinion throwing out eminent domain challenges levied on pipeline construction.

Tuesday’s denial of the two appeals and the opinion issued in April are backed by a designation of “public utility service” given to Sunoco Pipeline through the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, the state’s highest energy regulator. Despite approval from lower courts, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and regulatory agencies, pipeline opponents are still looking for any frivolous opportunity to delay or halt pipeline construction.

Mariner East 2 stands as an important opportunity for the state of Pennsylvania, and the country, to become major providers in natural gas. Decisions by the courts in Pennsylvania highlights the compliance standards Sunoco holds itself to and is encouraging news for the natural gas industry.

Pipeline Facts Are Not Fake News

As construction of Mariner East 2 pipeline reaches the finish line, radical opponents are once again pushing false narratives, claiming any positive coverage  of pipeline development as “fake news.”

Vista Today posted an article about how Sunoco has exceeded regulations during pipeline construction to ensure that Mariner East 2 operates safely in communities across Pennsylvania. It stated the following:

  • It starts in the pipe mill, where inspectors oversee the manufacturing of the pipe to strict standards. The pipe is inspected again when it arrives on the construction site.
  • Before and after the pipeline is buried, and ongoing once they are in operation, Energy Transfer Partners puts its pipelines through rigorous testing above and beyond what is required by federal safety regulations. Then, it monitors them 24/7, 365 days a year, from its central monitoring facility.
  • The company employs heavier pipe-wall thickness than required by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The higher quality of pipe reduces the risk of damage from sources such as excavating equipment or ground movement.
  • Energy Transfer Partners buries the pipeline deeper underground than required in most cases — at least four feet and up to 200.
  • The company inspects 100 percent of the pipeline’s mainline girth welds by X-ray, rather than the 10 percent required.
  • Energy Transfer Partners patrols its Mariner East pipelines more frequently, by ground and air, than required.
  • The company teams with local emergency responders along the route to provide information and training on emergency pipeline response. Since 2014, it has trained more than 2,000 emergency responders and public officials.
  • State and federal regulators spent more than 100 inspection days during 2017 on the Mariner East project, more inspection days than on any other pipeline in Pennsylvania.

To no ones’ surprise pipeline opponents slammed the piece, calling it “fake news.” To be clear something is not simply untrue just because you choose to dismiss it. Anti-pipeline groups can’t comprehend that pipelines are built safely due to their own ideological bias. They choose to pull the wool over their eyes and deny the truth that Sunoco is utilizing the safest construction techniques and standards in the industry. It is fact that pipelines built today are the safest pipelines in operation because they utilize the most recent technologies to ensure safety. This blatant disregard for the truth doesn’t make it “fake news.”

Opposition groups are also constantly complaining that they aren’t in the know as to what is happening during the construction process. However this article details exactly what goes into building a pipeline and the rigorous safety measures that are followed, yet because it doesn’t coincide with their bias narrative it’s labeled as factually flawed.

Pennsylvania’s news outlets need to begin giving equal billing to the pipeline process by highlighting these facts that prove pipelines are being built exceeding regulations to ensure they operate safely. Bias has no place in reporting and choosing to only allow one side of the argument to be heard is a deliberate misuse of power by these outlets. Pipeline opponents have become accustomed to the bias news media, which is why they cannot fathom stories that highlight the fact that pipelines can be built safely.

Ellen Gerhart Arrest Well Founded

Late last week, Ellen Gerhart, one of the primary anti-infrastructure activists fighting the Mariner East 2 pipeline, was arrested after violating a court order. Gerhart has long been a vocal opponent of the pipeline and has used increasingly reckless tactics to make her point. Just last September, Gerhart and Camp White Pine were encouraging fellow pipeline opponents to cause physical damage to postpone construction.

Gerhart’s latest stunts include spreading spoiled food near the construction site, starting fires near construction equipment, and standing in front of construction vehicles. Tactics such as this are not only in direct violation of a court order, but place the lives of the construction workers in jeopardy. Gerhart needs to stop putting ideological causes over public safety concerns and the law. Until then, her arrest should serve as a reminder to her fellow opponents of infrastructure progress that they are not above the law.

Infrastructure Opponents Behaving Like Frustrated Toddlers Who Didn’t Get Their Way

Last week, two protesters were arrested for trespassing while participating in the latest anti-infrastructure stunt in Pennsylvania. The women, members of “Mama Bears,” were hosting a “sit-in” at the construction site of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in an attempt to halt construction.

Anti-infrastructure groups such as these, who routinely ignore the positive benefits of the pipelines that they stringently oppose, would have you believe that they have been wronged, that they have not been allowed to have their voice heard in the debate, when the reality couldn’t be more different.

Contrary to the claims of these ideological protesters, the lengthy process from the project being proposed in 2014 to construction beginning and currently ongoing, has included more than a hundred public meetings, forums, and hearings that the company building the pipeline, Sunoco Pipeline, hosted and participated in. At each juncture, protesters and infrastructure opponents have had their opportunity to voice their opinions and raise concerns. For them to suggest differently is grossly inaccurate.

While there are differing opinions on both sides of any debate, the suggestion that they weren’t given a chance to have a say in the matter isn’t an opinion, it is a bald-faced lie. Stomping your feet and complaining isn’t the behavior of people who want to thoughtfully engage on matters of substance, it’s emblematic of toddlers who don’t get their way.

Another Protest Misrepresents What’s Best for Pennsylvanians

Today, anti-infrastructure groups held the most recent in a string of protests against the Mariner East 2 pipeline project, continuing to ignore the ways that natural gas production and natural gas infrastructure help Pennsylvanians.

Fringe activists like these want to govern with their ideological views, ignoring objective facts and economics. They overlook the fact that the pipelines they so adamantly oppose – such as Mariner East 2 – bring thousands of construction jobs to Pennsylvania, help local economies grow, and provide affordable, efficient, reliable energy to the Keystone state and beyond.

Their attempts to slow infrastructure progress will ultimately fail, as all of the projects underway, including Mariner East 2, have passed rigorous regulatory scrutiny. Natural gas drives Pennsylvania, and it’s helping families and communities across the state. Groups like these do not advocate for the progress Pennsylvanians want.

Pipeline Safety Expert Confirms That Risk Assessment Is Not The Best Move

Over the past six months, there has been a robust debate over whether to proceed with a proposed risk assessment of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County. As reported in the The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, the County Council voted to reissue a proposal for the risk assessment, in spite of the fact that by many accounts, it is duplicative and costly.

One of the specialists cited in the story, Richard Kuprewicz, an independent pipeline safety expert, warned that risk assessments like the one being considered are “unscientific and technically flawed.” Instead, Kuprewicz suggests developing plans for responding to any potential incidents.

Kuprewicz’s statement underscores the futility of moving forward with such a risk assessment. Further, all of the factors that a risk assessment study conducted by the state would consider have already been accounted for throughout the existing regulatory process.

If the waste of state funds and duplication of effort is not reason enough to abandon the risk assessment, the Public Utility Commission has already stated that doing a risk assessment likely violates Pennsylvania law.

The fact remains, the existing regulatory system has proven successful and this project will be a boon to the people of Pennsylvania. Misinformation about safety and risk shouldn’t distract from economic windfall that Mariner East 2 will bring to the Keystone State.