Are pipeline companies prepared for threats on their facilities?

Pipelines may be buried underground, but aboveground compressor stations are one of the telltale signs announcing their presence. These small stations look humble enough from the outside, but don’t be fooled by appearances – inside they’re a hive of activity, with compressors, valves, turbines and controls all working hard to keep the product flowing safely and efficiently toward its destination.

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It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to damage a high-pressure pipeline or compressor station, but it does happen. To learn more about what pipeline companies are doing to protect against these threats, we spoke with Myles Toews, a former RCMP officer, pipeline security specialist and president of Tocra Inc.

Q: What are the greatest threats to pipeline facilities?

Myles: There’s a real danger when protesters, special interest groups or disgruntled employees trespass onto private property and/or break into facilities with a view to vandalizing them or interrupting operations. It has happened, and these people can cause real damage, risking their own safety, the safety of employees, and of course, the environment.

Q: How do pipeline operators protect against these threats?

Myles: Pipeline companies are doing a good job of using different tools, including cameras, alarms and security guards, to protect against threats. They are also providing security focused training to teach their employees to be alert for suspicious activities and to respond appropriately.

In 2013, the National Energy Board amended their regulations, to require any company that falls under their jurisdiction to have a security management program in place. This includes conducting threat, vulnerability and risk assessments; employing physical security; ensuring  IT and control systems security is up-to-date; providing security training and exercises; and incorporating appropriate security measures into new construction projects, etc.

Many pipeline companies are proactively going above and beyond the regulations, and many who are not even regulated by the NEB are implementing these security management programs. These companies are working at creating a security culture to help them protect people, company assets, operations and the environment.

Q: What do you mean by security culture?

Myles: Security culture is the prevailing attitudes and behaviours of personnel (employees and contractors). By going further than physical security measures, and introducing awareness programs and training, they’re ensuring that personnel are alert to threats, and equipped to deal with them.

Q: What about terrorism?

Myles: I can’t really comment on terrorism as it’s the responsibility of the RCMP, but there haven’t been any incidents that I’m aware of. But nowadays, hackers can cause us harm without even having to be in our country.

Q: Can pipeline operators protect against these cyber threats?

Myles: The industry has invested heavily in control systems, and they take great pains to protect against unauthorized access into their computer systems. They’ve been very proactive against this, and their controls are quite robust. There are also special courses for control systems operators, to show them how to recognize unauthorized access and how to respond. It’s one of the ways the industry is working with the federal government to proactively address the risk.

Q: Could pipeline companies be doing more to protect against threats?

Myles: When someone damages a pipeline facility it’s very costly to the operator, in terms of impact to the environment, clean up or repairs, lost productivity and their public reputation. It makes sense for them to protect against it, and in fact they are mostly very proactive in doing as much as possible. They’re introducing physical security measures, employee training and IT controls, rather than waiting for regulation to tell them what to do.

Pipeline companies are going to some lengths to build a security culture where their employees are trained and alert for suspicious activities, or situations that could escalate.

In some cases, activists supposedly concerned with protecting the environment can cause significant harm to the environment by their actions; specifically, breaking into pipeline facilities with the intent to harm or impede operations.

To learn more about how pipeline companies are protecting themselves against terrorism and cyber-attacks, check out this video in our Pipelines Exposed series.

 

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 117,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2014, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.