The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Report Backs Resilience of Natural Gas Infrastructure

Jessica  Lutz

Jessica Lutz
Posted August 10, 2018

A newly released report from the Natural Gas Council demonstrates the resiliency of our nation’s natural gas industry – even in the face of extreme weather events or direct threats to the system, whether physical or cyber.

The report – which examined the industry’s preparation and actions during extreme conditions like January’s “bomb cycle” as well as hurricanes Harvey and Irma – determined that the natural gas industry is not susceptible to wide-spread failure from a single point of disruption because of a number of factors:

  • The dispersion of production and storage;
  • Redundant characteristics from the extensive integrated pipeline and distribution network;
  • A physical configuration which limits vulnerability to weather-related events;
  • Robust cyber and physical security protocols that minimize disruptions from manmade or computer threats; and
  • A resilient, interconnected system that allows it to come back on line quickly in the rare case of a disruption.

Put simply by Interstate Natural Gas Association CEO Don Santa:

“This study serves to underscore the fact that U.S. natural gas and the pipelines that transport it are remarkably safe, reliable and resilient.”

This study serves as yet another rebuttal to the narrative being pushed by the administration, which has attempted to justify a bail out for failing coal and nuclear plants by rotating false claims of issues with grid reliability, resilience and national securitynone of which hold up against scrutiny.

Natural gas is the leading source of electricity for power generation in America, providing a cleaner and more reliable power source for everything from your cell phone to your coffee pot to E-commerce. It’s also an essential partner that helps the growth of intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar – providing reliable power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

Total U.S. carbon emissions are at 25-year lows, and the biggest contributor — driving almost two-thirds of the CO2 emission reductions from 2006 to 2014 — came from fuel shifting toward natural gas. At the same time, increased use of natural gas is the chief reason U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are at 25-year lows, and have provided Americans with the cleanest air years as well as a number of economic benefits.  

There are robust and comprehensive protocols and safeguards in place to ensure the reliability of natural gas infrastructure. And no, it is not at a heightened risk of cyber attack. From the report:

The physical operations of natural gas production, transmission and distribution make the system inherently reliable and resilient. Disruptions to natural gas service are rare. When they do happen, a disruption of the system does not necessarily result in an interruption of scheduled deliveries of natural gas supply because the natural gas system has many ways of offsetting the impact of disruptions. [T]here is low risk of single point of disruption (regardless of cause) resulting in uncontrollable, cascading effects.

In contrast, previous cyber incidents have shown that nuclear power facilities are vulnerable to cyber attacks. Sean Griffin, a senior energy security adviser under both the Obama and Trump administrations, recently detailed the extent of this vulnerability:

“One of the most high-profile and often-cited cyberattacks [destroyed] centrifuges at the Iranian Natanz nuclear facility, making clear to the world that the nuclear industry is susceptible to significant incidents, resulting in physical damage to equipment… [P]rior to the Iranian incident, [a cyber attack] at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio…blocked operator access to reactor core information in 2003, back when the word cyber was less of a household term.

Perhaps in recognition of this point, the White House National Security Council has already led an exercise with the United Kingdom that postulated a significant cyber incident that impacted nuclear power plants in our respective nations. Both countries share a mutual understanding of the significant risk posed by a cyberattack on a fixed nuclear facility, which could include catastrophic consequence to life, safety and the environment.”

The administration’s exercise in preparedness certainly raises questions about the motives behind facility bail outs. And while these attempts at justifying anti-market actions keep changing, the result stays the same: a negative impact for consumers. Griffin:

“Given the reality that the nuclear industry is susceptible, and not immune, to cyber risk, it is surprising that certain legislators and policymakers in the U.S. government claim that relying on nuclear power versus other forms of generation will somehow reduce the cyber risk to the nation. They claim that the cyberthreat to natural gas pipelines systems is a primary reason the United States needs to maintain and build a larger nuclear power fleet, in addition to coal-fired generation. But that argument is contradicted by [a] leading industrial cybersecurity firm… which has said that promoting more nuclear and coal plants offers little protection and will not deliver any additional cybersecurity resilience based on the current threat environment.” [emphasis added]

While there are physical constraints on natural gas’ ability to serve the entire electrical system — which could and should be addressed with a nationwide commitment to infrastructure investment — focusing on the security of natural gas pipelines is a red herring. Todd Snitchler, API group director for Market Development:

“The reliability and resilience characteristics of gas have allowed this clean energy resource to earn its share of the market while delivering affordable electricity to consumers across the country. For this to continue, we must pursue policies that protect the electricity markets in order to further ensure an affordable, reliable and resilient electric grid that benefits consumers of all types.”

The administration has touted an “all-of-the-above” energy policy as the driver of America’s energy renaissance and a key factor as we strive for energy security. But, in reality, the administration’s energy approach is explicitly picking winners and losers and establishing its own market preferences. This course of action is intentionally putting aside energy sources like natural gas that are delivering stable, low-cost, environmentally responsible results in deference to inefficient and higher polluting sources like coal, forcing a less-than-optimal outcome at an exorbitant potential cost to the American people with no discernible benefit.

It’s worth noting that U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data predicts that coal and nuclear will play a role in the nation’s power generation fleet for the foreseeable future – without market distorting policies and unnecessary bailouts. The narrative continually pushed by the administration – that these fuels are on the cusp of extinction and their industry workers are being left out in the cold –is nothing but hyperbole.

world energy consumption by source

It is critical that the administration change its course to allow the markets to work freely and without intervention in determining energy sources, because markets reward innovation, spur efficiency, keep prices low, and work to benefit consumers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Lutz is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. Jessica joined API after 10+ years leading the in-house marketing and communications for non-profits and trade associations. A Michigan native, Jessica graduated from The University of Michigan with degrees in Communications and Political Science. She resides in Washington, D.C., and spends most of her free time trying to keep up with her energetic Giant Schnauzer, Jackson.