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Oil Pipeline Hack: How to Stop Man Made Disasters

Silas is a safety inspector who obtained his Master of Science in Safety and Master of Business Administration degrees.

Pipeline Hack

Pipeline Hack

The east coast has experienced a state of emergency, primarily due to the oil pipeline hack from a foreign entity. The oil pipeline from Texas to New York remains a critical infrastructure to the nation, and consumers are feeling the pinch with gas stations closed and several states declaring a state of emergency. Questions remain unanswered as to why it happened and how to prevent such an event in the future. According to the Congressional Research Service (2014), the United States benefits and meets 66% of its oil demand production, displacing oil imports from foreign nations. The US has excess oil and refined supplies in many of the regions. However, the present infrastructure increased the risk of cyber attacks that crippled our infrastructure. Daily life could become worse or better depending on the aftermath and recovery timeline.

This article reviews the fuel infrastructure that led to a shutdown as a result of a cyber-attack. National refinery limited products and consumer consumption along the east coast require more distribution modes other than the crude oil pipeline. Limit risk by eliminating the single point of failure.

Fuel Infrastructure

Fuel Infrastructure

Fuel Infrastructure

Critical infrastructure protection requirements and challenges for the 21st century are becoming fragile with inherent risks and vulnerabilities (Jaradat & Keating, 2014). President Obama’s denial to complete the Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas resulted in eliminating the likelihood of a catastrophic oil spill along the 55,000 miles of pipeline (Larranaga, 2012). Frittelli et al. (2014) mentions that oil spills present concern for several modes of transportation, including pipelines, ships, rails, and tanker trucks. They are transporting oil by train accounts for several accidents created by derailments.

Tanker Car

Tanker Car

Trains increase the chances of risk while shipping oil by rail, and accidents create environmental and human concerns. Frittelli et al. (2014) mentions that on January 7, 2014, 17 rail cars hauling crude oil derailed from an axle failure in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. Five tanker cars carrying oil exploded. Next, on February 13, 2014, 21 tanker cars derailed and released oil in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. April 30, 2014, 15 oil tanker cars left the track and contaminating a river in Lynchburg, Virginia. Tanker car oil spills present environmental hazards, and the petroleum products can cause cancer due to the carcinogenic (Mehlman, 1992). Thus, oil spills present a hazardous condition that requires a mitigation strategy to protect the environment and population.

For years, tanker trucks and pipelines delivered the majority of oil throughout the nation. Other modes of transportation included barges and rail. Safety and cost remain a concern that pushes the transportation of oil from one source to another. Catastrophic failure of the crude oil infrastructure points toward the single point failure. Have a single failure that stops the flow of crude oil requires a solution to the problem. Increasing network resiliency to secure the pipeline remains a starting point to prevent failure. While unable to prevent accidents, the critical infrastructure requires controls to reduce risk and protect the present resource required by millions.

Accidents happen to include pipeline shutdown events. According to Larranaga (2012), over time, pipeline accidents increased 244% from 1971 to 2001. Besides, accidents from random events elevate interest to protect critical assets. The most vulnerable components within the oil industry infrastructure include sites, tanks, and pipelines. Many of the target methods of attack include cutting torches, small arms, and explosives. Moreover, physical attacks and cyber infiltration events present a clear and present danger to a nation’s dependence on crude oil.

Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts (PADDs)

Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts (PADDs)

During World War II, gasoline rationing existed and Congress created the Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts (PADD). According to Chester (2017), in 1942, Executive Order 9276 organized and rationed oil products to ensure the military had fuel to fight the war. The function of the districts ensured proper distribution of oil supplies to specific regions as a response to German attacks on US oil tankers. The oil distribution between regions provided an interstate of pipelines to connect oil refineries to markets across the nation. After the war, five districts continued to represent the petroleum market throughout the US. Today the Department of Energy uses the PADDs to disseminate data and support the development of regulations. The same regions from the war present today's information to analyze and spot trends within districts instead of looking at the nation as a whole or state-by-state basis (Chester, 2017). Figure 1 lists each state under PADD one through five.

Figure 1

Chester (2017) mentions that PADDs 2 and 3 remain important districts to oil prices. The reason results that they contain the highest number of refineries. Next, demands and data analysis highlighted that Hurricane Harvey redirected propane flow from PADD 2 to PADD 3. Also, an accidental shutdown requires PADD 1 to supplement gasoline with import or movement of fuel from PADD 2.

Refinery Production and Consumption

According to Frittelli et al. (2014), PADD 1 (East Coast) includes nine refineries, PADD 2 (Midwest) added 25 refineries, PADD 3 (Gulf Coast) involves 43 refineries, PADD 4 (Rockies) has 15 refineries, and PADD 5 (West Coast) includes 25 refineries. The east coast represents a large population with seven refineries that highlight the consumption rate far exceed the production rate. Thus, a pipeline shutdown presents an emergency for consumers of crude oil. Note, PADD one listed under New England consumed 661 while refinery production equaled zero in 2014. The gulf coast production soared, leading to the use of the pipeline to transport millions of barrels of oil per day. Figure 2 highlights the consumption and fuel production balance for each PADD.

Production and Consumption

Production and Consumption

Asset and Attack Scenario Analysis

The oil pipeline requires attention to ensure the critical infrastructure remains to deliver a product required by the nation. According to Larranaga (2012), the economy has relied on the oil pipeline for the past century. The infrastructure developed in the early 20th century enables business, and transportation has changed our way of life. Without the infrastructure or a breakdown of the process, the economy will fail and revert to days before oil consumption. Having less energy such as gas, kerosene, aviation fuel, and other chemicals industries presents a dire situation that poses an emergency for the nation that relies on a complex crude oil network. A stable energy sector within each region presents a U.S. economy that can function by reducing threats to the infrastructure. Table 1 presents the asset and attack scenario analysis that includes infrastructure components and attack methods.

Asset / Attack Analysis

Vulnerability Assessment Table

Asset TargetAttack MethodRisk Level

Site

Torches, Weapons, Explosives

High

Tanks

Cutting Torch, Mortars

High

Pipelines

Vehicles, Tools, Small Arms

High

Pumping Stations

Vehicles, Heavy Arms

High

Solutions

Pipeline failure frequency affect the economy, military, and our way of life. Frittelli et al. (2014) mention that incorporating redundancy within the system provides a method of resilience. Targeting single-point failures requires the design of additional refineries and other methods of delivering the product across the nation. One pipe shutdown that distributes petroleum to a particular region should not present the only fuel path to the pump. Pipelines, rail tankers, trucks, and ships present delivery methods, although consideration requires more attention toward disruptions related to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and cyberattacks within the infrastructure network. Duplicating infrastructure resources provides a method to secure the transportation of oil without delay of a vital chemical.

Final Note

Final Note

Final Note

The oil infrastructure remains at risk under the current system developed in the 1940s. More emphasis on utilizing several transportation modes should eliminate the single-point failure that the east coast has experienced due to cyber breaches. Shutdowns of critical infrastructure require government support with regulations and diplomatic measures to deter harm. Utilizing several modes of transportation should help the shipment of timely petroleum products.

References

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