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Black gold: the nation's security blanket.


SUMMER 1973. THOSE OF US WHO sat in endless lines at the gas pumps in the steamy summer heat remember those days all too well. The 1973-1974 oil embargo hit this country hard.

Could the United States face a similar crisis in the '90s or at any other time in the future? A frightening thought, but most probably not. And for one simple reason: the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The reserve is an emergency supply of crude oil stored in huge underground salt caverns along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. It is the largest stockpile of crude oil in the world.

The need for a national oil storage reserve has been recognized for several decades. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes advocated stockpiling emergency crude oil in 1944. President Truman's Minerals Policy Commission proposed a strategic oil supply in 1952. President Eisenhower suggested an oil reserve after the 1956 Suez Crisis. The Cabinet Task Force on Oil Import Control recommended a similar reserve in 1970.

But few events so dramatically emphasized the need for a strategic oil reserve as the 1973-1974 oil embargo. As a result, on December 22, 1975, President Ford signed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which declared it a US policy to establish a reserve of up to 1 billion barrels of petroleum.

New Orleans-based Boeing Petroleum Services (BPS), a subsidiary of the Boeing Company, operates, maintains, and manages the SPR for the Department of Energy (DOE). BPS is also responsible for most security service program elements. The company is in the fifth year of a five-year contract with DOE.

The company has a security budget that would turn most security directors green--$13 million a year plus another $14 million through 1994 for special projects. But then it also has responsibilities that would probably make most security directors' heads swim.

There are six sites--four in Louisiana and two in Texas--where oil is stored. Each site has up to 22 salt caverns that actually hold the oil. Caverns are typically 200 feet wide by 2,000 feet deep, large enough to hold the New York World Trade Center with room to spare. Each cavern can hold more than 10 million barrels of crude oil. When full later in the 1990s, the caverns at the six sites combined will hold 750 million barrels of crude oil--enough to last the country close to five months.

John Dollinger, the company's technical security coordinator, is responsible for the physical protection of the sites. Part of his job is made easier because the oil is stored in the salt caverns, which offer ideal protection. One might wonder why the oil is not stored in huge containers. But as Dollinger explains, salt is impervious to oil and gas. Salt has a strength comparable to concrete under the weight of the overlying rock, and it acts like a plastic to seal any fractures. Since oil and salt don't mix, the oil can be stored in the caverns indefinitely.

Despite the natural protection the caverns offer, the physical protection of the sites is comprehensive. For starters, there is a 300-person contract guard force, in which all officers have received tactical training. "Our officers are armed," notes Dollinger. "They are authorized to carry and are qualified to handle AR-15s, shotguns, and pistols." Roughly 110 officers have been certified by the DOE Central Training Academy at the advanced skill level as special response team members.

In addition to the guard force, there is the actual equipment that protects the sites. Dollinger is responsible for making sure the correct equipment is being used and that it is maintained properly. "Mainly, we protect the distribution capability--the on-site piping, all of the control units, different things like that. Once we get the oil off our site," he says "it is no longer our responsibility." However, Dollinger adds that the National Guard and the Army would take over protection of the off-site portion in time of national need.

The equipment in place is sophisticated. "We have a multitiered level of protection at the sites. We don't rely on only one level or one device for protection," stresses Dollinger.

To stop intruders, the Israeli tautwire DTR 2000 and DTR 90 systems, manufactured by Magel Inc., are used. "Basically, it is a multistacked barbed wire running along the perimeter. In the middle of each of the sections there is a sensor device, something like a joystick," explains Dollinger. "If you deflect it even a small amount, an alarm is set off." The systems are placed around the perimeter of the oil storage areas and over the caverns.

"In some cases," continues Dollinger, "that's the first level of security. In other cases we have levels outside of that. Then we have microwave systems--transmitter and receiver systems as well as passive systems that we use indoors. We're probably one of the biggest users of outdoor sensors."

As anyone involved in physical security will tell you, there are no foolproof systems. And Dollinger's systems are no different. The difficulties he has, however, are a bit unusual. One of the sites, Bayou Choctaw, is located in the middle of a swamp. "We have had to pull alligators off the tops of caverns," says Dollinger. "The alligators have literally come up out of the swamp, gone through the taut wire, and come on top of the cavern."

The Mississippi mud also poses some unique maintenance problems. "We installed a taut-wire system on a well pad [the top of the cavern], which was designed to withstand anything and everything. The next thing you know, we see the poles coming out of the ground," he says. The poles, Dollinger points out, are set in a cement base. "When the poles become loose, we have to pull them out of the ground and repack the ground. It's a lot of work."

Part of Dollinger's duties also involve performing tactical threat analyses. DOE sets the level of security for the sites it believes is needed to guard against hostile acts. It is up to BPS to make sure the sites are protected.

"We go in and analyze a site," says Dollinger. "We evaluate what's already in place and what we need to do to bring it up to a level that's acceptable to DOE. We get the protection officers' response times, their capabilities, what kinds of weapons they have. Then we evaluate the information using a computer. We have computer programs furnished by Sandia National Labs and Lawrence Livermore Labs that we use to come up with a risk level.

"The next step," continues Dollinger, "is to decide what needs to be done to correct a particular problem. Right now we are involved in a project where we are going to be storing some equipment. We want to be sure the equipment is stored properly.

"Say we decide we are going to construct a building to store the equipment. We get the cost for the building. We may then decide that's not enough detection and that we're going to put in an infrared system. All this information is fed into the computer. The computer comes up with a graph that shows you at what point your security is cost-effective."

Once the analysis has been completed, the information is presented to DOE. BPS makes its recommendations for what needs to be done to protect a particular target.

"Based on DOE's reply," says Dollinger, "we decide what we can do immediately, what we can do in the near future, and what we have to set as a long-term goal."

A tactical assessment for a single target takes roughly two weeks. Every 18 months, the company does a tactical assessment of an entire site.

Security is constantly monitored and upgraded, which means Dollinger spends a great deal of his time traveling to the various sites. He estimates that he spends as much as 60 percent of his time on the road.

"Presently, we have a lot of construction going on at the sites, and part of my job is to oversee the construction. We're putting in a new Sentrex ported coax system at the Big Hill [TX] site. It's the first one we have put in on the SPR project. Of course, everybody's concerned. It's something new. So I have to go out and oversee it more often than I would normally," he says.

All of this protection is for good reason. "Our threat is based around the worst-case scenario. By basing our threat around the worst case, we protect against all lower-level threats."

Whether the threat is a US organization or an international group is of little importance, according to Dollinger. "An attack can come from any nation, including the US. It doesn't make any difference. We're set up to protect."

Dollinger tries to be as realistic as possible. "We can't say that we'll deny terrorists from coming in and destroying us. Anything is possible. But if we lost a whole site, we could recover from it. As a matter of fact, recovering sites is one of our biggest pushes right now."

If a site were to be attacked, according to Dollinger, it could be partially functional within a couple of weeks, fully functionally within a month. "If a group were to come in and just wipe out a portion of a site, we could be back up in a few days."

Because DOE stockpiles such massive amounts of oil, one of the main threats, not surprisingly, is activists. "We protect daily against activists," says Dollinger. "There are people out there who would like to shut down our sites."

The company tries to keep abreast of what the various activist groups are doing. "We did have a group come down the Mississippi River recently. We have a large sign out on our dock that says DOE. We were kind of worried about what the group might do," Dollinger confesses. "But we made sure when they came by that we had enough protection force out there so they couldn't come onto our property."

BPS has also been fortunate that no activist groups to date, to its knowledge, have sabotaged any of the sites. "We have had a few incidents where we've had unknown reasons why things went wrong," admits Dollinger, "but nothing major."

Dollinger acknowledges there is one threat that cannot be guarded against. "We cannot protect against our own people. Like anyplace else, insider threat is still unable to be defeated. We can control the threat," he says.

All the security measures in place and precautions taken have not gone unnoticed. "People keep calling us the best protected nuclear facility they've seen," says Dollinger. The sites, of course, are not nuclear facilities.

And what about retrieving the oil in a crisis? Dollinger reports that procedures and equipment for removing the oil from the caverns and delivering it to the private sector have been tested in both simulations and real-life examples. So should the country ever be faced with another oil embargo, it can rest a bit easier knowing that this time it has the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to draw on. Says Dollinger, "We have proven that the system does work."

Karen K. Addis is assistant editor of Security Management and editor of Dynamics.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes article on southern underground storage sites; protecting the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve
Author:Addis, Karen K.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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