Pipeline Attack Emphasizes Energy Infrastructure Needs

May 14, 2021

Mark Green, American Petroleum Institute | May 14, 2021

You can read the latest here on Colonial Pipeline’s restoring service on its 5,500-mile line that delivers million of gallons of fuel products every day from the Gulf Coast to New York. The company says the entire pipeline system has been safely restarted and was delivering product to all served markets.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said most areas should return to normal this weekend. On its website, Colonial said some markets may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions and that “Colonial will move as much gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal.” The service station tracker on GasBuddy.com provides updates for specific locations.

While the cyber attack on the pipeline interrupted supplies at numerous retail outlets along the East Coast this week, the incident and response by our industry and associated sectors showed the multifaceted fuel supply system is resilient and works quickly to restore supplies during difficult circumstances – as it has following hurricanes and other unusual events.

It’s impossible to prevent severe weather events or to completely protect against criminal activity, but our industry takes precautions to lessen impacts while preparing to respond as soon as possible – because natural gas, oil and fuel products run the modern U.S. economy and daily life.

The Colonial attack underscores two other big points:

  • The vital nature of energy infrastructure. The U.S. needs more, not less, energy infrastructure – not just fuel pipelines, but pipelines that bring oil and natural gas from producing areas to refineries, processing facilities and consumers. They’re also critically important to U.S. energy security.
  • Protecting against cyber threats is an economywide responsibility. For our part, natural gas and oil companies, refineries, pipeline operators and others remain focused on doing all that’s possible to prevent cyber criminals from disrupting key energy infrastructure.

API President and CEO Mike Sommers, in an interview with CNN International:

“We need to continue to build out this infrastructure, our energy infrastructure in particular because the world is going to continue demand, and Americans are going to continue to demand a lot of energy, and we can't continue to be dependent on the existing pipeline infrastructure. We need to build more.”

Even as the nation absorbs the impacts to fuel supplies and daily life, Sommers noted efforts to shut down the Line 5 pipeline in Michigan and the Dakota Access Pipeline – both of which bring crude oil to refineries for processing into fuels and other products:

“We shouldn’t be talking about shutting down existing pipelines for sure. … The oil and gas industry is ready to invest in this kind of infrastructure. They invest every year to update these kinds of pipelines, to make sure they're safe and they provide fuel that the American people need during these kinds of situations. But we also need permitting reforms so we can continue to build out that infrastructure. We're prepared to build out that infrastructure more. We want to build more pipelines in this country, and we want to invest in cybersecurity as well.”

Credit the Biden administration for granting waivers on EPA regulations and other rules to help move fuel supplies around the country to areas affected by the Colonial disruption. These included allowing conventional gasoline to supply states that this time of year are required to use reformulated gasoline, extending the hours that tanker truck drivers can be on the road and issuing waivers that allow for additional shipments to be made by tank truck and marine vessels.

Looking beyond the current situation, it’s unfortunate that the administration’s new infrastructure package didn’t include energy infrastructure. This omission should be corrected. Discussing the Colonial Pipeline attack on Thursday, the president talked about infrastructure investments:

“We're in a competition with China and the rest of the world to win the 21st century economically. And we're not going to win it competing with an infrastructure that is out of the 20th century. We need a modern infrastructure.”

We’ll see if the administration might be open to amending its proposal, as it should. The Colonial attack emphasizes the every-day importance of pipelines to the way Americans live. They’re the safest way to transport crude oil and natural gas, as well as fuels and other products that make modern life possible. In industry, we know the critical role played by energy infrastructure and urge policymakers to recognize it as well.

We’ll keep doing our part, to develop and deliver energy while continuing a focus on safety, reducing emissions and protecting pipelines and other facilities from cyber threats. Frank Macchiarola, API senior vice president of Policy, Economics and Regulatory Affairs:

“Our industry remains committed to protecting America's critical oil and natural gas infrastructure from growing cyber security threats. Our members engage consistently with relevant government partners and the intelligence community to ensure they have the latest and best information to defend their networks and secure their operations. This incident underscores the vital importance of pipeline infrastructure and supplying the energy resources that Americans depend on to lead their daily lives.”