Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Threat to the Energy Infrastructure

The National Governors Association recently released a report on the threat to the nation's energy infrastructure, both from natural and man-made threats. The report provides a number of recommendations that state-level executives can take to manage the risk. The suggestions were generally not surprising - work with other states, the energy industry, develop response and recovery plans, etc.

I thought some of the more interesting information in the report dealt with the threat itself:

The nation’s diffuse energy infrastructure—with many pipelines and transmission lines running through sparsely populated areas and electricity substations sited in remote areas—makes the industry susceptible to sabotage by international terrorists, loosely organized home-grown movements, lone-wolf extremists, and common thieves and vandals. Documents discovered in Afghanistan and elsewhere since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks indicate that al Qaeda has targeted energy infrastructure, particularly nuclear power plants and oil and gas infrastructure in the United States and Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to disrupt the U.S. economy and inflict mass casualties.

[E]xperts warn switching systems that control electrical substations could be vulnerable to sabotage and, if damaged, are expensive and difficult to replace. … Should a number of critical switching stations come off line, entire segments of the grid could be affected for weeks.

In fact, significant terrorist attacks against electrical systems are common in other parts of the world. In Colombia, for example, the electrical grid is a favorite target of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Shortly before the country’s May 2006 presidential elections, a FARC bombing of the electrical grid serving the port city of Buenaventura left the city in darkness for days.
The energy sector in general, and the electric grid in particular, are highly exposed. It's important for local first responders to know the vulnerable points in the network in their area.

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