GAO Report and Lawmakers Question Port Security
The Coast Guard lacks the resources to meet its own security standards to protect against terrorist assaults at American ports, even as the nation is to dramatically expand imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the Government Accountability Office has found.
A recent report from the GAO recently made public notes that while U.S. intelligence officials know of no specific threat to American ports, captured terrorist training manuals have cited seaports as potential targets.
And terrorism trainees are instructed to try to obtain surveillance information on ports for use in a possible attack.
However, “despite considerable efforts to protect ports and the energy traffic in them, the level of protection is not where the Coast Guard believes it should be,” the report said. “At some ports, Coast Guard units are not meeting their own levels of required security activities.”
According to The Houston Chronicle, the nation has experienced no terrorist attacks on tankers or loading facilities in U.S. waters to date.
In October 2002, terrorists rammed the French tanker Limburg in a suicide attack off the coast of Yemen, killing one crewman, injuring another 17 and causing a spill of about 90,000 barrels of oil.
Ports are inherently vulnerable, the report said, because they are often sprawling facilities, close to major urban centers like Houston, and with access by both land and sea.
Ships are likewise targets, since they travel along known routes, often through waters that do not allow room to maneuver away from potential threats, the report noted.
The Associated Press reports that House lawmakers are backing the idea, including Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., whose district includes an LNG terminal. “We know that terrorists are looking for the weakest link in our security efforts, and this GAO report is a timely reminder that LNG and oil tankers are serious targets,” he said.
An attack on a tanker or terminal “could have significant economic, environmental and public safety consequences, which would result in even higher gasoline and heating oil prices,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich.
Safety experts are concerned the terrorism risk will only increase as the country imports more LNG, which the report notes has the potential to catch fire or even explode. It is chilled to 260 degrees below zero, reducing its volume so it can be transported in a tanker.
LNG currently accounts for about 3 percent of the nation’s natural gas supply, with tiny Trinidad and Tobago accounting for about 70 percent of those shipments.
But the Energy Information Administration estimates LNG will account for 17 percent of the nation’s gas supplies by 2015. It is currently imported at five terminals in Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, Louisiana and in the Gulf of Mexico and federal regulators have approved construction of 11 onshore and two offshore terminals.
Bill Cooper, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, a Washington-based trade group, told the Houston Chronicle that the Coast Guard is an integral part of the permitting process when regulators are evaluating proposals to build terminals.
The Coast Guard has to provide assurances that it can provide adequate security for a new facility, Cooper says. And if it cannot, “the project won’t go forward.”