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A manufacturing trade group is calling on Congress to empower FERC to strengthen physical and cyber security requirements for natural gas pipelines, similar to standards applied to the electric grid.

Pointing to the Colonial Pipeline attack as a “wake-up call” for lawmakers, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America (IECA) wrote in letters to the Senate and the House of Representatives that lawmakers should give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to oversee reliability and establish mandatory requirements for securing natural gas pipelines against threats.

The IECA said pipelines should have federal reliability oversight comparable to electric infrastructure.

“Unlike electricity, there are no mandatory standards and there is only very limited federal oversight of natural gas pipeline reliability,” the IECA said. 

The group, which has raised concerns over U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports in the past, highlighted what it described as a lack of federal oversight to ensure adequate pipeline capacity during periods of peak demand.

“In fact, no federal agency has responsibility to monitor at what rate pipelines are operating to determine whether there is sufficient capacity,” the group told lawmakers. “LNG exporters have locked-up firm pipeline capacity to ensure that gas flows to export facilities. Their highest demand is in the winter. No one knows how much capacity is available to supply power generation, homeowners and manufacturers at peak demand.”

The manufacturers said they expect stricter federal oversight of pipeline security to lead to higher costs downstream.

“As very large energy consumers, we understand that implementation of mandatory physical and security requirements will increase costs that will be passed onto us,” the IECA wrote. “However, one successful attack could shut down tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities and cost tens of millions of dollars per day for each facility. The economic harm could be staggering.”

The IECA’s letter to Congress comes in the wake of the ransomware attack that shuttered the Colonial refined products pipeline for days and led to fuel shortages along the East Coast.

For their part, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in the House recently took steps to formalize federal agencies’ responsibilities in ensuring pipeline security.

Meanwhile, FERC Chairman Richard Glick last week called for establishing mandatory cybersecurity standards for natural gas, oil and hazardous liquids pipelines.

“It is time to establish mandatory pipeline cybersecurity standards similar to those applicable to the electricity sector,” Glick said. “Simply encouraging pipelines to voluntarily adopt best practices is an inadequate response to the ever-increasing number and sophistication of malevolent cyber actors.”

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