Key Crude Oil and Products Pipelines Are Vulnerable to Disruptions

EMD-79-63: Published: Aug 27, 1979. Publicly Released: Aug 27, 1979.

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No Federal legislation deals comprehensively with the issue of physical security of petroleum pipelines. GAO reviewed the Capline, Trans-Alaska, and Colonial petroleum pipeline systems in order to: assess the vulnerability of major U.S. oil and refined petroleum product pipelines to sabotage, natural disasters, or other causes; determine the impact major disruptions may have on the United States as a whole or on certain geographical areas; assess the adequacy of industry and Federal Government measures to protect pipelines from disruptions; and assess the adequacy of industry and Federal Government contingency planning for minimizing the impact of disruptions.

Although industry is capable of quickly repairing minor damage, such as breaks in pipe, it may take 6 months or more to repair complex facilities, such as pump stations. In the interim, the flow of petroleum could be severely curtailed and cause excessive hardships, since neither industry nor Government has contingency plans.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should consider legislation which will give the Department of Energy clear authority to: make on-site visits to pipeline facilities necessary for identifying and analyzing critical pipelines and related facilities; develop minimum physical security standards and establish penalties for noncompliance and administrative procedures for appeal; conduct periodic inspections for determining compliance and for reassessing physical security requirements; and develop and periodically update contingency plans for minimizing supply shortages which could result from prolonged disruptions in the flow of petroleum through important pipeline systems, including Capline, Colonial, and Trans-Alaska. Legislation should also be enacted to make the willful damaging of an interstate petroleum pipeline or its related facilities a Federal criminal offense. To expedite implementation of these functions, Congress should require the Department of Energy to submit, within 6 months after enactment of this legislation, an overall program for pipeline security and contingency planning. The program should become effective 90 days after Congress receives it, providing neither House rejects it by resolution within that time.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should establish within his Department a focal point for energy security matters to: analyze the entire petroleum network and identify critical pipelines which, if damaged, could seriously disrupt the flow of petroleum; and collect relevant intelligence information from cognizant Government agencies and provide the petroleum industry with advance warning of potential dangers, such as sabotage. The Secretary of Energy should also develop actions in the following areas: minimum physical security standards for critical pipelines and related facilities; and contingency plans for minimizing supply shortages which could result from prolonged disruptions in the flow of petroleum through important pipeline systems. To minimize the cost and reduce the time to implement the physical security and contingency program, the Department of Energy should draw upon, coordinate with, and build on, for civilian purposes, the expertise already established within the Defense Logistics Agency.

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