Republicans and industry resist FERC oversight of pipeline reliability and safety as Glick cites network threats

Diving brief:

  • House Republicans and the fossil fuel industry oppose legislation directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to develop reliability and cybersecurity standards for natural gas and other energy pipelines. Trade groups and conservative lawmakers argue the bill is redundant, costly and creates conflicting authorities.
  • The House Energy Subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday to consider HR 6084, the Energy Product Reliability Act. There are no mandatory reliability standards for natural gas pipelines and this “presents a risk to the reliability of the mass power system,” FERC Chairman Richard Glick told lawmakers.
  • The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) and seven other groups oppose the bill, instead urging lawmakers to address “capacity constraints resulting from federal and state permit barriers.” Republican lawmakers say their priority is to slow rising energy costs.

Overview of the dive:

There are now 93 FERC-approved mandatory reliability standards for the bulk power system, but none for gas and other energy-carrying pipelines. HR 6084 is similar to parts of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which called for the development of reliability standards for the electric grid now overseen by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC).

Gas accounted for 37% of electricity generation in the United States in 2021, Glick told lawmakers. If a pipeline outage or cyberattack disrupts the gas supply, then “electricity generation capacity dependent on that pipeline could be lost, possibly leading to blackouts on the power grid,” he said. .

“It’s more than a hypothetical situation,” he added, pointing to winter storm Uri, which last year caused power outages in Texas and the south-central United States when gas production facilities froze, among other weather-related impacts. A joint FERC-NERC report in November recommended that Congress designate a single federal agency with authority over pipeline reliability.

The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in May 2021 also highlighted the risks, Glick said. In this case, the East Coast’s largest oil pipeline was preemptively shut down to prevent malware from infecting its operational systems.

“A similar attack on a gas pipeline serving power generators could also harm the reliability of the power grid,” Glick said. “In my opinion, it is essential that energy pipelines are also subject to mandatory cybersecurity standards.”

HR 6084 was introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who said during the hearing that the bill was “not final” and was open to “constructive suggestions” from Republicans. “Electrical reliability is an issue that we are all for,” he noted.

HR 6084 calls for the creation and certification of an energy product reliability organization and gives FERC the authority to order the organization to develop new reliability standards. The reliability body would also be able to issue contingency standards, and FERC would have the power to review enforcement and independently investigate and sanction reliability violations.

The legislation will help “better secure the reliability of our nation’s energy infrastructure, in the face of threats, extreme weather and cyberattacks,” Glick said.

Republicans and the gas industry have argued for surveillance by FERC is useless and duplicate. The Transportation Security Administration oversees the physical security of pipelines as they carry fuel, gas and chemicals, and in 2021 also announced cybersecurity guidelines.

“The bill we’re going to talk about today is a sweeping power grab preventing states and local jurisdictions from regulating all types of energy infrastructure,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. “This bill would dramatically expand FERC, transforming a relatively small agency into a giant.”

This bill would also “impose new federal taxes, fees and regulations on all energy in the country,” he said.

Fossil fuel groups say there is already enough pipeline regulation. INGAA, the American Gas Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Public Gas Association and others raised their concerns in a Dec. 7 letter to lawmakers and released a statement following the hearing on Wednesday.

HR 6084 “not only creates a redundant and adversarial federal oversight authority, but also interferes with state regulation of intrastate pipelines,” the groups said in their letter. “From a natural gas perspective, FERC does not have authority over intrastate natural gas transmission pipeline systems or natural gas distribution pipeline systems operated by local distribution companies.”

About Therese Williams

Check Also

Most House Republicans backed aid from Ukraine. This NJ congressman didn’t.

New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew was one of 57 House Republicans to oppose sending …