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API pushes back against Perry on pipeline claims

November 9, 2018

WASHINGTON — Rick Perry has championed the oil and gas industry as both the governor of Texas and secretary of energy. But now something has come between them: coal.

A recent report by the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s premier lobbying group, pushes back against claim by Perry that natural gas pipelines are especially vulnerable to cyber attack — claims that aim to justify the Trump administration’s efforts to bail out struggling coal and nuclear power plants.

The API report argues that pipelines are no more at risk than any other segment of the U.S. energy system. The report also stresses that that pipeline companies maintain multiple levels of security “to protect against cascading failure.”

“Cybersecurity is a top priority,” said API President Mike Sommers. “Natural gas and oil pipeline systems are purpose-built to be highly resilient and our members are leaders in cybersecurity.”

Coal woes

President Donald Trump, who received strong support from the coal industry and the people who work for it during his 2016 campaign, has sought ways to bolster coal, including the possibility of using his national security powers to keep coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The administration also sought higher rates to prop up coal and nuclear plants from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which rejected the proposal.

Booming natural gas production has driven prices to low levels and made coal and nuclear power less competitive. Earlier this year, Perry and top officials at the Department of Energy have warned that the power grid was becoming overly reliant on gas, presenting an opportunity for hackers.

Unlike coal and nuclear plants, which store fuel on-site, natural gas plants rely on pipelines to provide fuel as needed. Coal plants across the country have closed; last year, the Irving energy company Vistra cited economic disadvantages when it decided to shutter three coal plants in Texas.

“You have a greater reliance on natural gas than you’ve ever had before,” Assistant Secretary of Electricity and Energy Reliability Bruce Walker said in an interview in June. “Because of the interdependence on the gas infrastructure, if you take out a pipeline, you can also take out 10 to 15 [power] generators.”

Oil and renewables

API’s report rejected Walker’s contention. It concluded that that system for producing, storing and distributing natural gas is resilient, flexible, geographically diverse and equipped with plenty of back-up systems to avoid major disruptions.

API has joined with trade groups representing renewable energy, utilities and industrial users of electricity, to oppose the administrations’s plan to bail out coal and nuclear industries

james.osborne@chron.com

twitter.com/osborneja

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