Among threads that wove through all three days of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference was the security of pipeline systems, and the importance of the Dakota Access pipeline — not just to North Dakota, but the world at large.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked about the national security aspect of cyber attacks on infrastructure like pipelines. As secretary of state, he saw dozens of attacks on infrastructure that is central to America’s operation.
Energy Transfer’s Kelcy Warren, meanwhile, confirmed that Dakota Access has been the target of cyber attacks on multiple occasions. Those have so far failed.
“We have redundancies beyond imagine,” he said, during a Q& A session at the conference.
The pipeline’s SCADA system, for one, is separate, and the control room for that is behind bullet proof glass. All the employees receive training on an ongoing basis as well, to school them on cyber security.
That, however, doesn’t prevent one or another employee from clicking on pictures of celebrities, Warren quipped.
“I betcha everybody in the room appreciates this,” he said. “We’ve got all the training you can imagine, people get really tired of the training we send them to, and yet they still make these really dumb mistakes, you know? A picture of Jennifer Aniston, and they click on it.”
API’s CEO Mike Sommers, meanwhile, said the attacks on Colonial and other pipelines should be “stark” evidence for the Biden administration that the nation needs more, not fewer pipelines.
“Our industry’s viability is assured by the world’s long-term and growing need for energy,” he said.
Yet the pathway to building the infrastructure that supports that industry is becoming more and more complicated by regulatory uncertainties, and emerging trends like the Environmental Social Governance model the capital investment sector has been moving to. Meanwhile, fossil fuel critics are making wishful demands that don’t mesh with the practical reality that future demand not just for fuel but the many other products from petroleum ranging from textiles and plastics to medicines, means fossil fuels will continue to have a place, even in a low-carbon world.
Nowhere is that more apparent, Sommers suggested, than what is happening with the legal attacks on the Dakota Access pipelline.
“Shutting down an operational pipeline to score political points would unnecessarily hurt working families and all Americans,” he said. “In reality, pipelines are the safest and most environmentally friendly way to move oil and natural gas and their products, and operators are committed to meeting or exceeding the highest operating standards. So, the outcome of the debate isn’t just a critically important pipeline for us. It’s also a key question for the American people.”
Dakota Access carries about half of the Bakken’s daily production to Patoka, Illinois, where it connects with the second half of the transportation system, the ETCO pipeline, which heads to the Gulf of Mexico.
“The export appetite for that barrel is very significant,” Warren said. “So we don’t lack market at all. Even with the virus, when it came along and refineries dialed back, there was still quite an appetite for that barrel. So you’ve got, this state has a wonderful product that is wanted by the market. And you’ve got ways to get it there.”
Warren expressed confidence that despite all the legal maneuvers by groups opposed to Dakota Access it will continue to operate.
For one, the pipeline is not the defendant in the case. That’s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its permitting processes, he pointed out. The Corps has so far been “ just perfect. So professional, doing their jobs,” Warren added.
“I think this is just business as usual until we receive that EIS and then this stops being news,” he said.
Warren added that as soon as Biden was elected he gathered his team and had them go into think tank mode on whether there was any executive orders that could affect the Dakota Access pipeline’s operation.
“We came out with a zero,” he said. “We couldn’t find it, because executive orders only move administrative action.”
Any such action would have a negative ripple effect, Warren suggested, by making the regulatory process seem highly uncertain and subject to political whim.
It was also pointed during the Q & A that Dakota Access pipeline follows an existing utility corridor and that other media outlets should research that. The Williston Herald was among the first to report on that fact during the Dakota Access protests, after an interview with Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak in 2016. The Williston Herald was also among the first to report that the pipeline would be 92 feet underneath Lake Oahe, and that Williston also has a water intake that is near the Dakota Access pipeline, in a 2016 article that examined the overall safety of the pipeline.