Pipelines of greater concern in wake of terrorists alerts
Three major pipeline companies have miles of lines snaking through Cleburne County and with increased terrorist alerts the safety of these lines must be considered.
That is why FBI Special Agent Michael Mauldin appeared in a program last week in Oxford sponsored by Colonial Pipeline, Plantation Pipeline and Southern Natural Gas.
The program, headed up by Bob Russell of The Pipeline Group, discussed pipeline safety issues in a five county area including Cleburne County.
Programs are held nationally on an annual basis to make contractors aware of the many safety issues involved before they dig around pipelines and also to inform local emergency responders what they need to do in the event of a break or rupture in the lines. Agent Mauldin explained to the group that pipelines are part of the critical infrastructure and vital service of the nation and have now come under the purview of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Both Mauldin and Russell pointed out that disruption or damage to the pipelines have a significant impact on the community the incident occurs as well as on communities and businesses farther down the line. Mauldin said gas and oil pipelines are considered vital services and key assets. "Services so vital that their incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on the defense or economic security of the United States," he added.
A key asset, he said, is "an organization, system, or group of systems considered being a critical or key asset if it is determined that the loss of its associated goods, services or information would have immediate, widespread and severe economic, military or social impact."
He also explained that the pipelines are not only vulnerable from actual terrorist attack but from Internet hackers who could disrupt computerized operating systems used by the pipeline companies. With such scenarios in mind, the government has instituted an "Infraguard" system that acts as a facilitator of information between the public and private sector so that information about viruses, terrorist alerts and other critical matters can be shared. Part of the oil and natural gas sector initiatives include developing strategies to reduce vulnerabilities and develop standardized guidelines for physical security programs. Russell explained that there are three companies operating in Cleburne County - Colonial, Plantation and Southern Natural. Colonial pumps diesel fuel, jet fuel, kerosene and gasoline through its' pipelines mostly in a batch - meaning all four fluids can be placed into the pipes and pumped one behind the other without the mixing.
Plantation, using 18 and 30 inch lines with pressures from 600 - 1000 pounds per-square-inch, pumps diesel, gas, jet fuel, kerosene and heating fuel. Pumping stations are located about every 50-70 miles apart.
Southern Natural is one of the major distributors of natural gas and they pump only natural gas through their 12, 14, 20 and 24 inch lines at pressures up to 1,200 ppsi. Natural gas, Russell said, must be compressed and there is a large compression station in Cleburne County.
The majority of lines, he said are 36 inches or less underground and that is why The Pipeline Group stresses safety and using Alabama's "one call system" at 1-800-292- 8525 before contractors dig or excavate around the pipelines.
Steve Swafford with the Cleburne County Emergency Management Agency said they have plans in place to secure the scene in the event of a problem.
"This is not something local resources can fix. We would have to call their emergency response teams in," Swafford explained. Swafford said there are times the companies will have to vent sections of the pipes and this can be a very noisy process. "We get some calls on that. It sounds about like a large plane going overhead," he said.
About the only other problem in the county is four-wheel enthusiasts using the pipeline property to ride. "This can cause erosion problems over time and people should understand that this is private property and not a public park," Swafford added.
Copyright The Cleburne News - Alabama