FERC official’s comments spotlight pipeline cyber risk
Comments by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s chief of staff, Anthony Pugliese, to an industry group appear to be more evidence of concern over potential attacks on U.S. gas pipelines that could threaten the nation’s electricity supply.
Pugliese singled out pipelines as a priority target for state-based cyberattacks. “More and more, you have adversarial countries … who see pipelines, for example, as an area of great opportunity, let’s put it that way,” he said.
And he also dismissed the capabilities of the Transportation Security Administration to oversee pipeline cybersecurity, a mission given the agency by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. TSA has published standards for cybersecurity defense that gas pipelines are expected to follow. The guidelines are voluntary.
“TSA doesn’t really have a lot of the resources; they certainly don’t have enough subject matter expertise,” he said.
Pugliese’s comments at a meeting of the American Nuclear Society, shared with E&E News by Rod Adams of Atomic Insights, raised questions about how FERC’s staff might be contributing to a top priority DOE policy initiative to channel subsidies to struggling coal and nuclear plants to prevent their retirement (Energywire, Aug. 9).
DOE says that these plants provide greater security and resilience to the grid because their fuel is on-site — in reactors, or plant-side coal piles — in contrast with pipeline supplies for gas-fired generators. DOE’s proposed “resilience” policy was leaked in June, but has not been approved, as the department seeks ways to identify which plants should be supported.
The FERC official said at one point, “We are working with DOD and DOE and NSC to identify the [coal and nuclear] plants that we think would be absolutely critical to ensuring that not only our military bases but things like hospitals and other critical infrastructure are able to be maintained, regardless of what natural or man-made disasters might occur.”
Congress has made DOE responsible for assuring electric power availability to defense facilities, and DOE’s plan would invoke that authority.
But a FERC spokesman said yesterday that despite Pugliese’s “working with” comment, the commission was not DOE’s partner in policy formation. “In response to a question after the speech, the chief of staff was simply stating that the federal government is working to ensure that important critical infrastructure, like hospitals, remains operational. FERC is an independent agency and therefore has not assisted in the development of policy but provides technical assistance as subject matter experts,” FERC spokesman Craig Cano said.
The DOE plan has split the U.S. energy industry, with a coalition of wind, gas, solar and other industry sectors promising to fight it in court, if it is advanced.
“Our main point … is the scope of any review should be all fuels, not just natural gas. That means rails and barges for coal, for example,” said John Shelk, president of the Electric Power Supply Association, representing independent power producers and marketers.
Pugliese’s comments singled out the risk to gas supplies, however, giving support to a policy push by the PJM Interconnection, the Eastern power grid operator, and Exelon Corp., the nation’s largest nuclear operator, who have urged FERC to require gas pipeline companies to work more closely with grid operators in strengthening defenses against possible cyber and physical attacks.
PJM announced in April that because of the potential risk to power plants from gas supply disruptions, it would undertake “targeted analyses to identify fuel security risks” to particular locations, including challenges in fuel delivery under stressed conditions.