Securing the Keystone Pipeline


Most understand that the continuous function of our national power grid is a must for the safety and prosperity of the nation. Our natural gas pipelines, though, are just as critical – a necessary, integral piece of the country’s infrastructure.

The proposed Keystone Pipeline, currently awaiting presidential approval, is designed to run from the province of Alberta, Canada all the way South through the United States to Houston, TX.

Security Consideration for the Keystone Pipeline

The requirements to secure a national pipeline are both complex and significant. This staggeringly long length of pipe, running through remote areas and terrain, is a major challenge to protect. Without a doubt, the need to protect it is paramount.

Areas in Need of Security

First of all, there are going to be security needs involved with any initiative that involves infrastructure construction. Potential theft of materials and vandalism present a risk at every construction site. In the case of the Keystone Pipeline, however, sabotage and terrorism – be they motivated by political, economic, or environmental ideologies – are also risks to consider.

Once built, there will be the need to minimize damages to the pipeline caused by exposure to the elements and natural wear and tear. The process of monitoring the ongoing functionality of each segment of the pipeline is fundamentally a security matter.

The Keystone Pipeline features 2,100 miles of tubing, and 41 pumping or compressor stations along the way. The risk of foul play at these pumping stations, by environmental extremists groups, is an obvious concern. But the risk from local outdoorsmen hunting in remote areas can also constitute inadvertent threats.

When considering the safety implications of this particular pipeline, it's important to remember that it won't be transporting a benign material.

Pressurized natural gas is very volatile.

Whenever the pipeline comes above ground, there are a myriad of precautionary protocols that must be in place. In the event of a leak, for instance, workers and citizens must be educated and prepared to take necessary precautions. Something as simple as starting a car could be catastrophic. Anyone in the area must walk to safety, even if that means walking several miles.

Thankfully, much of the pipeline will be buried underground. Still, the pumping stations and the pressurized tubing can put entire areas at risk, and all above-ground facilities are susceptible to sabotage. And, of course, low-risk areas of the buried pipe are not immune from accidental damage or natural disasters.

How to Protect the Pipeline

For starters, the Keystone project needs trusted security consultants who can help devise realistic plans for protecting its facilities and help navigate the requirements put forth in Homeland Security’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). Those plans call for human and canine patrols, but they also draw on the benefits of technology-based security – especially for the purposes of monitoring so many locations, many of which are in remote areas.

Solar power is likely to be used to make up for the lack of infrastructure in these remote areas. Data streams, including video feeds, will likely need be transmitted wirelessly via cellular networks. Where infrastructure would have been a major challenge to securing these vast pipelines years ago, technology advances now make this more achievable.

In becoming CFATS-compliant, each facility of the pipeline will be assigned a tier rating from 1 to 4. These ratings determine the security measures needed at each locale. For example, tier 1 facilities, the highest hazard facilities, may require anti-crash gates, video surveillance, fence detection and physical barriers be in place to meet the regulatory requirements to secure the facility.

When the FAA approves UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones) for commercial use down the road, monitoring will become easier. Infrared cameras will be able to spot human disturbances, and UAV-mounted cameras will be able to detect heat signatures along the pipeline, showing any leaks or damage to the tubing itself.

Securing the Nation's Energy

For all pipelines, including the Keystone, security is essential because it affects the well-being of a size-able population. Any disruption to the transport of oil or natural gas would result in serious problems for many people.

With the controversy surrounding its inception and the difficulties in getting the entire project approved, it's likely that any incident, no matter how small, could turn public opinion against the pipeline.

When millions of barrels worth of fossil fuels stop flowing, companies go out of business, and there could be an economic domino effect. Keystone needs to remain 100% secure – which, of course, makes prudent security measures essential.


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Ron Oetjen (Linked In, Twitter, Facebook) -