RPT-Bolt cutters expose vulnerability of North America's oil pipeline grid

Wed Oct 12, 2016 7:00am EDT
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By Liz Hampton and Ethan Lou

HOUSTON/NEW YORK Oct 12 (Reuters) - All it took was a pair of bolt cutters and the elbow grease of a few climate activists to carry out an audacious act of sabotage on North America's massive oil and gas pipeline system.

For an industry increasingly reliant on gadgets such as digital sensors, infrared cameras and drones to monitor security and check for leaks, the sabotage illustrated how vulnerable pipelines are to low-tech attacks.

On Tuesday, climate activists broke through fences and cut locks and chains simultaneously in several states and simply turned the pipelines off.

All they had to do was twist shut giant valves on five cross-border pipelines that together can send 2.8 million barrels a day of crude to the United States from Canada - equal to about 15 percent of daily U.S. consumption.

The activists did no damage to the pipelines, which operating companies shut down as a precaution for checks before restarting.

The United States is the world's largest energy market, and the infrastructure to drill, refine, store and deliver that energy to consumers is connected by millions of miles of pipeline that are impossible to protect entirely from attack.

"You're not manning these things on a permanent basis. It's not viable," said Stewart Dewar, a project manager at Senstar, an Ottawa-based company that authored a 2012 white paper on pipeline security. "It's too expensive."   Continued...