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.