Natural gas pipelines, which transport approximately 25 percent of the energy consumed in the United States, are an essential part of the nation’s infrastructure. It is important that this transportation infrastructure is both reliable and resilient.
Whether the threat is natural causes, terrorist activities or careless excavation, the inherent design and operation of the natural gas pipeline system reduces the probability that an incident will have a significant adverse impact on the nation. Many of the inherent characteristics of the natural gas pipeline system that contribute to public safety in the vicinity of a pipeline also minimize the impact on energy delivery should terrorist activity target a pipeline.
The natural gas pipeline industry has been diligent in taking steps to safeguard critical facilities against terrorist threats and to ensure the ability to recover from any such incident on an expedited basis.
The industry’s concerns are twofold. First and always, pipeline companies are concerned for the well-being of people who might be at the point of incidence of any disruption – the pipeline employees if the event occurs at a compressor station and the citizens who might live or work near a pipeline if a disruption occurs along a pipeline route. In both cases, the concern is that escaping gas can ignite. Still, relative to other potential terrorist targets, there is a low probability of fatalities and injuries at the point of disruption, because the majority of the interstate pipeline infrastructure is located in remote, sparsely populated areas and is buried underground. Furthermore, emergency responders and gas company personnel are trained, and are continually receiving additional training, to control such an event.
Beyond the point of disruption, a second broader concern is the consequences of a loss of gas service to the thousands of individuals, businesses, industries and electric generators that rely directly or indirectly on the supply provided by the interstate pipeline. The loss of gas supply for an extended period during the winter (and potentially during the summer for regions that rely on gas-fired electric generators to meet peak air conditioning demands) could have an adverse effect on consumers and the economy within a region affected by a gas pipeline disruption. Homeland security and pipeline industry personnel now are focusing their prevention and recovery planning on the potential disruption of natural gas supply as the primary issue to be addressed in connection with any natural gas pipeline incident.