GAO: More Action Needed to Secure Maritime Energy Supply

The Coast Guard and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have made progress implementing prior recommendations made by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) to enhance energy tanker security, but further action is needed to secure maritime energy supply, GAO said in an Aug. 24 report.

GAO in 2007 made five recommendations to ensure effective response by federal agencies to protect tankers and implement response plans. Two recommendations have been implemented, including the development of protocols by the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to facilitate the recovery and resumption of trade following a disruption to the maritime transportation system. The Coast and the FBI have participated in local port exercises that executed multiple response plans simultaneously.

The Coast Guard also has made progress on a third recommendation through work on a national strategy for the security of certain dangerous cargoes. The Coast Guard plans to develop a resource allocation plan, starting in April 2012, which may help address the need to balance security responsibilities.

"However, the Coast Guard and the FBI have not yet taken action on a fourth recommendation to develop an operational plan to integrate the national spill and terrorism response plans," GAO reported.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to revise the National Response Framework, but no decision has been made regarding whether the separate response plans will be integrated. DHS also has not yet taken action on the final recommendation to develop explicit performance measures for emergency response capabilities and use them in risk-based analyses to set priorities for acquiring needed response resources. According to DHS, it is revising its emergency response grant programs, but does not have specific plans to develop performance measures as part of this effort.

While the Coast Guard has taken steps to assess the security risks to offshore infrastructure, including Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) facilities and deepwater ports, the agency faces complex and technical challenges in assessing risks. The Coast Guard has used its Maritime Security Risk Analysis Model (MSRAM) to examine security risks to offshore facilities, but does not have the data on the ability of an OCS facility to withstand an attack.

GAO has determined that as of May 2011, the Coast Guard had not assessed security risks for 12 of the 50 security-regulated OCS facilities that are to be subjected to such assessments. Coast Guard officials later added these facilities to MSRAM for assessment and have completed the required assessments. However, current Coast Guard policies and procedures do not call for Coast Guard officials to provide an annual updated list for regulated OCS facilities to MSRAM analysts.

"Given the continuing threat to such offshore facilities, revising its procedures could help ensure that the Coast Guard carries out its risk assessment requirements for security-regulated OCS facilities," GAO said.

Stephen L. Caldwell, director on Homeland Security and Justice Issues, testified before the House of Representatives in Houston on Aug. 24 that Al-Qa'ida and other groups with malevolent intent continue to target energy tankers and offshore energy infrastructure because of their important to the nation's economy and national security.

In May of this year, DHS reported that intelligence information showed that; throughout 2010, there was continuing interests by members of al-Qa'ida in targeting oil tankers and commercial oil infrastructure at sea. "While a terrorist attack on energy tankers or offshore energy infrastructure has not occurred in the United States, other countries have experienced such attacks."

While the Deepwater Horizon incident in April 2010 was not the result of an attack, it showed that the "consequences of an incident on offshore energy infrastructure could be significant."


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