New GAO Report, Maritime Energy Supply

Published Dec 18, 2012 2:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

Late last week, GAO released its report... Maritime Security: Progress Made, but Further Actions Needed to Secure the Maritime Energy Supply, GAO-11-883T. The report is available at GAO's website.

This was a testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management, at a congressional field hearing in Houston, Texas. The report focuses on three issues: (1) threats of attacks to energy tankers, (2) agency responses to prior GAO recommendations to improve the response to attacks on energy tankers in a U.S. port, and (3) agency efforts to assess threats against offshore energy infrastructure such as oil rigs. 

In summary, the report found…

• Energy tankers continue to face risks from Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, as demonstrated by recent revelations of Al-Qaida intentions as well as last years' attack on the MV Star in the Strait of Hormuz. Risks from piracy have surpassed terrorism as the key threat, with pirate attacks against tankers tripling in the last 5 years and continuing to set a record pace for 2011.

• Agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, have made some progress addressing GAO's 2007 recommendations to improve the response to terrorist attacks on energy tankers within a U.S. port.  However, five years after the report, 2 of the 5 recommendations remain unaddressed--those related to integrating terrorism and oil spill response plans, and those related to developing performance measures on readiness to respond.

• Offshore energy infrastructure, such as deepwater oil rigs, also face risks from terrorists groups, to include ramming by a small boat with explosives, attacking underwater by divers with explosives, a collision by an aircraft, or sabotage by an employee.  The Coast Guard evaluates the security of such infrastructure through use of a risk assessment model to calculate the threat, vulnerability and consequences of an attack. However, the risk assessment process is hindered by limited data on vulnerabilities and consequences, as well as the lack of updated information on which offshore facilities (based on amount of production and number of personnel) are required to be evaluated.  GAO found that the Coast Guard did not conduct several required security assessments.

• Also, mobile offshore drilling units such as the Deepwater Horizon, are considered vessels and not facilities, so they fall outside the Coast Guard's current security regulations, and no security assessment is done.  The Deepwater Horizon, while an accident, demonstrated the potential consequences of an explosion on an offshore drilling rig.  The explosion resulted in 11 deaths, serious injuries, and the release of 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 3 months before the well was capped.

GAO recommended that the Coast Guard improve its internal controls to make sure that all major offshore facilities that are required to be evaluated, are included in its annual assessment of security risks. The agency concurred with the recommendation and is taking other steps to improve security.  GAO will continue to review other related Coast Guard programs, such as security inspections of offshore infrastructure, to ensure the protection of offshore energy facilities.  These topics will be addressed in a separate GAO report later this year in November.