More must be done to secure rigs, GAO says


A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that agencies have made progress addressing GAO’s 2007 recommendations to improve responses to potential terrorist attacks on U.S. energy facilities but more work is needed. 

The report focuses on three issues: threats of attacks to energy tankers in U.S. ports; agency responses to prior GAO recommendations to improve the response to attacks on energy tankers in a U.S. port; and agency efforts to assess threats against offshore energy infrastructure such as oil rigs. 

The report is based on testimony from the GAO’s Stephen L. Caldwell before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management in Houston on Aug. 24.

Caldwell said while tankers continue to face risks from terrorist groups, “risks from piracy have surpassed terrorism as the key threat, with pirate attacks against tankers tripling in the last five years and continuing to set a record pace for 2011.” 

Caldwell said offshore infrastructure such as deepwater rigs also face risks from terrorists. The risks include “ramming by a small boat with explosives, attacking underwater by divers with explosives, a collision by aircraft, or sabotage by an employee,” he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard evaluates the security of the infrastructure through the Maritime Security Risk Analysis Model (MSRAM) to calculate the threat, vulnerability and consequences of such an attack. “However, that risk assessment process is hindered by limited data on vulnerabilities and consequences as well as lack of updated information on which offshore facilities [based on the amount of production and number of personnel]are required to be evaluated,” Caldwell explained. 

The GAO found that the Coast Guard did not conduct several required security assessments. Caldwell added that since offshore rigs are considered vessels and not facilities, they fall outside the Coast Guard’s security regulations and no security assessments are done. 

The GAO recommended that the Coast Guard improve its internal controls to make sure that all major offshore facilities subject to evaluation are included in its annual assessment of security risks. As of May, the Coast Guard had not assessed security risks for 12 of the 50 security-regulated Outer Continental Shelf facilities that are to be subjected to such assessments, the GAO said. 

“GAO will continue to review other related Coast Guard programs, such as security inspections of offshore infrastructure, to ensure the protection of offshore energy facilities,” Caldwell said. 



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