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Bipartisan House Group Asks GAO to Probe 'Vulnerabilities' of LNG Tankers to Attacks

A bipartisan group of five powerful House lawmakers last Monday called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake an investigation of the "vulnerabilities" of tankers bringing liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) into U.S. harbors to attacks by terrorists, as well as the efforts by governmental and private sector entities to step up security.

"We know from the Sandia report that the potential hazard posed by a terrorist attack against an LNG tanker in Boston harbor could be quite large," said Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Homeland Security Committee and was one of the signers of the letter to GAO Comptroller General David M. Walker.

"What we don't know is whether the federal government is doing everything it could be doing to mitigate this risk and to assist state and local governments in addressing post-9/11 concerns about the terrorist threat to LNG and other maritime energy transport," he said. "Our request is aimed at getting the GAO to undertake a comprehensive investigation into these matters."

Joining Markey in the request to GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, were Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Chris Cox (R-CA), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee; Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.

The Sandia study cited by Markey was released in December 2004. It concluded that terrorist assaults on tankers transporting LNG into U.S. ports would likely burn people as far as a mile away from the site, as well as would produce other extensive injuries and structural damage from the scorching heat. The study was conducted by Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and commissioned by the Department of Energy.

"Each day, hundreds of tankers enter or traverse through U.S. waters carrying petroleum or other combustible materials, including...LNG and LPG. During 2000 and 2001, LNG tankers under Algerian flag were involved in drug and illegal alien smuggling, and these illegal aliens may have had an indirect association with those indicted for the 'Millennium Plot,'" the House lawmakers wrote.

Last April, an official with the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the federal government has known for several years that illegal aliens smuggling drugs have stowed away on Algerian-flagged LNG tankers entering Boston Harbor, and had "some suspicion of possible associations" between the stowaways arriving in Boston and the terrorists indicted for their role in the so-called "Millennium Plot" to blow up Los Angeles International Airport and other U.S. sites (see NGI, May 3, 2004).

The lawmakers acknowledged that the federal government has taken a number of steps to avert potential terrorist attacks on LNG and LPG tankers, such as providing U.S. Coast Guard escorts to tankers entering U.S. waters, and requiring a 96-hour notice of arrival for all commercial vessels prior to entering U.S. ports with details about the crew, cargo and history of the vessel.

However, "in spite of [the government's] current efforts, the Sandia study points out inconsistencies between the various studies regarding the consequences of a large LNG spill. Until these inconsistencies are more fully understood, we cannot be fully confident in our current efforts to manage these risks. The gaps in our understanding of these issues need to be more fully evaluated," they said.

"This GAO study is the next step in ensuring that we are doing everything we should be doing to protect LNG terminals and other energy infrastructure from a terrorist attack," Markey noted.

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