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Physical and Cyber Protection of Critical Pipeline Infrastructure

Dale Wuokko, P.E.

Across the United States (U.S.) there are more than 2.7 million miles of energy-related pipelines. These pipelines are critical infrastructure supporting the Nationís economy. This is a vast pipeline network transporting oil, natural gas, propane, and other commodities used to operate vehicles and machinery; heat homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses; generate electricity; and manufacture products. It functions as critical infrastructure so vital to the U.S. that its incapacity or destruction would have a significant debilitating impact on the Nationís security, public health, safety, and economy. The design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the Nationís pipeline network depends on multiple engineering disciplines, including pipeline, electrical, civil, mechanical, industrial, chemical, computer, instrumentation and controls, environmental, and others.

This national pipeline network runs through remote, sparsely populated areas, as well as highly populated urban areas, and is generally considered to be reliable infrastructure. However, the network transports volatile, flammable, or toxic products and is vulnerable to accidents, operating errors, malicious physical attacks, natural disasters, and in some cases, to aging infrastructure. The expanse of the pipeline network through remote areas makes it potentially susceptible to well-planned, coordinated physical attacks, such as the destruction of multiple compressor stations necessary to maintain flow and pressure within pipelines. In addition, pipelines increasingly rely on sophisticated networked computerized systems and electronic data, i.e., informational and operational technology, which are potentially vulnerable to cyberattack or intrusion. Accordingly, identifying, preventing and mitigating physical and cyber risks to this vast pipeline network are crucial.

The risk environment of the Nationís pipeline network is complex with threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences continuing to evolve on a daily basis. The potential consequences of a catastrophic event on life, property, the economy, and the environment resulting from a natural disaster, operational accident, or from a successful physical or cyberattack on a pipeline are significant. For example, even a minor pipeline system disruption could potentially result in commodity price increases while prolonged pipeline disruptions could potentially lead to widespread energy shortages. Furthermore, a disruption of any magnitude may affect other domestic critical infrastructure and industries that are dependent on pipeline system commodities, such as natural gas-powered electric generating plants.

In todayís world, a cyberattack perpetrator need not be located within U.S. national boundaries. Adversaries located world-wide can seek to exploit cyber vulnerabilities of the Nationís pipeline network. A 2017 study found 68% of oil and gas companies had experienced at least one cyber compromise over the prior 12 months, with intrusions occurring well before this timeframe.

This course provides an overview of measures for providing physical and cyber protection of U.S. critical pipeline infrastructure.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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