Pipeline Construction Security

01/7/2021

As we move into 2021 with a new Administration on the horizon, one can’t help but consider the potential impacts to the energy sector of the economy that may be forthcoming.  A change in the Administration will undoubtedly bring a renewed focus on the oil and gas industry, and with it a new set of challenges.  One challenge that has been and will continue to be a point of contention is pipeline construction, and with it, security.  Pipelines can transport huge volumes of products, both raw and refined, thousands of miles for a fraction of the cost of trucks or other methods of transportation.  However, while people will gladly secure the benefits from pipelines, not many folks are willing to have them cut through their land, neighborhoods, or other nearby locations – the NIMBY (“not in my backyard) principle.  Pipeline construction tends to result in protests of all sizes; some of which may pose a security threat.  Operators, by law, are required to ensure that their pipeline is safe for operation.  This includes ensuring that the construction of the pipeline is conducted safely, and in accordance with developed procedures, industry standards, and published regulations.

There have been numerous instances of security breaches on pipeline construction sites.  Pipeline operators and construction firms must ensure the safety of the site not only for the proper construction of the pipeline, but also for the safety of the workers who are on site.  Protestors, activists, and other opponents of pipeline construction have been shown to violate the security boundaries of pipeline construction sites, creating a potentially unsafe environment for both workers and themselves, as they generally are not equipped with the personal protective equipment (PPE) or properly trained to be present in a high risk construction site.

Pipeline operators have and will continue to hire security to ensure the safety of their projects.  Often, this security force has been comprised of off-duty police, correctional or other law enforcement officers.  A recent article[1] discusses the concerns with hiring security with law enforcement capabilities – usually off-duty officers – which can result in a dilemma wherein pipeline operators are accused of “buying” security through local law enforcement agencies. Opponents argue that this buying of security prevents these officials from maintaining a non-biased position, but proponents argue it provides a better service as sworn officials have the ability to uphold and enforce the law.

A number of states have enacted laws which make it illegal to interfere in pipeline construction.  But is using sworn law enforcement officers, even in an off-duty capacity, the right answer?  With protests growing in size and impact, it may be time to develop new solutions to this problem to ensure everyone’s safety.

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[1] “Are pipeline companies buying justice?” E&E News, https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063721653, January 4, 2021.