The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report with claims that there are a series of “weaknesses” in how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) manages its pipeline security efforts. While it’s worthwhile to continually evaluate the resilience of our nation’s energy networks, what this report doesn’t acknowledge are the lengths that the energy industry is already going to in exceeding regulatory best practices around cybersecurity. It’s important to keep in mind that guidelines outlined by the TSA are a baseline framework, and many operators continue to exceed these standards. In fact, the global oil industry was expected to increase spending on cyber defenses by $1.9 billion in 2018.
Safety is the top priority for the natural gas industry. Although the GAO report is a helpful assessment, any changes to the current status quo should not be made in an overly hasty manner. There are inherent risks involved in every industry, but the TSA and energy developers are working closely together, taking robust steps to anticipate any potential threats and develop safeguards accordingly. From decades of extensive experience, the TSA and pipeline operators have developed layers of resilient support and strong security programs to mitigate risk.
In addition to comprehensive training exercises to simulate active assaults on the grid, dozens of natural gas and oil companies share cyber threat intelligence with each other and the federal government. Therefore, there is little chance that a severe service disruption could occur to the natural gas transmission network. And in the exceedingly rare event of a disruption, impacts would be localized and brief, and it is extremely unlikely that a single point of disruption could result in an uncontrollable cascading outage.
Regulators play a critical role in modern energy development. But “playing politics” or adding more regulatory hurdles is not the answer to bolstering industry security – the US must instead streamline the permitting process, establish straightforward expectations, and ensure regulatory certainty for developers. In an era when the US is producing record amounts of oil and gas, lawmakers and regulators alike must welcome investment and foster an environment conducive to energy infrastructure development.