Congress and Department of Justice Consider Existing Protections as Pipeline Sabotage Increases

In response to questions from lawmakers on whether federal law adequately provides for the prosecution of "criminal activity against infrastructure," the Department of Justice recently committed to "vigorously" prosecute those who damage "critical energy infrastructure in violation of federal law." Historically, vandalism on oil or gas pipelines has been relatively uncommon, largely because most of the infrastructure is buried underground. Since 9/11 and in response to increased high profile pipeline construction projects, however, acts of vandalism—and more intentional attacks—have increased.

In just the past year, physical attacks on pipelines and related facilities have become more coordinated and more prevalent, posing a greater risk of accidents that could result in loss of life, significant environmental harm, or disruption to the reliability and continuity of the US energy infrastructure. Meanwhile, individuals and organizations inside as well as outside of the US continue to attempt to interrupt or damage pipeline systems through cyberattacks. These threats are significant, and they are occurring with increasing frequency. Examples include coordinated attempts in October 2016 to shut down five major interstate oil pipelines in Washington, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana (including breaking fences and shutting off valves); reports of protesters in Iowa using blow torches to damage pipelines; incidents in Florida of protesters climbing in a pipe to stage a protest; and gun shots taken at the pipeline. Some instances of pipeline sabotage (whether physical or cyberattacks) are not yet public because they present potential national security issues, but they are being investigated and coordinated confidentially with the FBI, DHS, and other agencies.

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