Why hacker attacks threaten US energy independence

Why hacker attacks threaten US energy independence
di Marco Dell’Aguzzo

Perché gli attacchi hacker minacciano l’indipendenza energetica degli Stati Uniti

Achieving energy independence requires upgrading infrastructure so that it can withstand cyber attacks and climate change
It is not uncommon to speak of “energy independence” to describe the situation in the United States: to date they are the largest producers of oil and natural gas in the world; in 2020, for the first time since 1952, they also exported more crude oil than they imported. Talking about “independence” is however controversial, because it leads us to think that the United States has become a self-sufficient system, closed to all the others and sheltered from the great disturbances of the oil market.
It’s not like that. The country continues to import crude oil for its refineries, first of all; the moves of Middle Eastern producers, then, continue to have effects on US fuel prices. Last April, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm telephoned the Saudi Oil Minister to – officially – “reaffirm the importance of cooperation to ensure affordable and reliable energy sources for consumers”Soon after, the OPEC cartel decided to relax the output cuts.
The United States is not independent on energy, but it certainly came close in the almost fifty years following the 1973 crisis, when OPEC imposed an embargo on oil exports to Western countries. And they got closer thanks to a strong increase in domestic production of oil and shale gas and a greater installation of wind and solar systems.
THE COLONIAL PIPELINE CASE
It is, however, a fragile independence, as Clifford Krauss wrote in the New York Times taking the cue from the cyber attack suffered by the Colonial Pipeline pipeline by a group of hackers: the Americans of the Southeast, Panicked, they crowded gas stations to stockpile fuel. But Krauss also highlights the effect of climate change on the power grid, recalling the power outages in California triggered by the extreme heat of last summer and the latest blackouts in Texas following the frost storm.
Daniel Yergin, energy historian and author of The New Map, said that “eight presidents wanted energy independence, and now that we have reached it we have greater resilience than the global oil market
The problems of the Colonial Pipeline have nothing to do with any crisis in the Middle East or insufficient energy production by the United States. But panic buying, the impulse to run to buy gasoline for fear of remaining without – filling cans or even plastic bags -, has actually caused a shortage of supplies and raised prices even up to 20 cents per gallon. Colonial Pipeline, the private company that runs the pipeline, has restored the service, but it will be a few more days before the situation at the distributors returns to normal.

CYBER AND CLIMATE RISKS

Energy companies will increasingly be pressured by governments and investors to provide adequate defenses against cyberattacks. But these are vulnerabilities that, the New York Times writes, cannot be resolved in a short time, especially after years of insufficient investments. It also applies to electricity networks, which – as the cases of Texas and California, two of the most populous states in America – are not prepared to withstand extreme weather events, which will become more and more frequent due to climate change, threatening the economy and public health. At the national level, the power outages caused by the weather have increased by two-thirds since 2000, according to data from the Department of Energy.
Upgrading energy infrastructure – pipelines, power plants, transmission lines, service stations – and the companies that manage them to the new climate and IT will not be easy and will require large investments, both private and public.

INDEPENDENCE AND INNOVATION
Why hacker attacks threaten US energy independence
di Marco Dell’Aguzzo

Perché gli attacchi hacker minacciano l’indipendenza energetica degli Stati Uniti

Achieving energy independence requires upgrading infrastructure so that it can withstand cyber attacks and climate change
It is not uncommon to speak of “energy independence” to describe the situation in the United States: to date they are the largest producers of oil and natural gas in the world; in 2020, for the first time since 1952, they also exported more crude oil than they imported. Talking about “independence” is however controversial, because it leads us to think that the United States has become a self-sufficient system, closed to all the others and sheltered from the great disturbances of the oil market.
It’s not like that. The country continues to import crude oil for its refineries, first of all; the moves of Middle Eastern producers, then, continue to have effects on US fuel prices. Last April, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm telephoned the Saudi Oil Minister to – officially – “reaffirm the importance of cooperation to ensure affordable and reliable energy sources for consumers”Soon after, the OPEC cartel decided to relax the output cuts.
The United States is not independent on energy, but it certainly came close in the almost fifty years following the 1973 crisis, when OPEC imposed an embargo on oil exports to Western countries. And they got closer thanks to a strong increase in domestic production of oil and shale gas and a greater installation of wind and solar systems.

THE COLONIAL PIPELINE CASE

It is, however, a fragile independence, as Clifford Krauss wrote in the New York Times taking the cue from the cyber attack suffered by the Colonial Pipeline pipeline by a group of hackers: the Americans of the Southeast, Panicked, they crowded gas stations to stockpile fuel. But Krauss also highlights the effect of climate change on the power grid, recalling the power outages in California triggered by the extreme heat of last summer and the latest blackouts in Texas following the frost storm.
Daniel Yergin, energy historian and author of The New Map, said that “eight presidents wanted energy independence, and now that we have reached it we have greater resilience than the global oil market
The problems of the Colonial Pipeline have nothing to do with any crisis in the Middle East or insufficient energy production by the United States. But panic buying, the impulse to run to buy gasoline for fear of remaining without – filling cans or even plastic bags -, has actually caused a shortage of supplies and raised prices even up to 20 cents per gallon. Colonial Pipeline, the private company that runs the pipeline, has restored the service, but it will be a few more days before the situation at the distributors returns to normal.

CYBER AND CLIMATE RISKS

Energy companies will increasingly be pressured by governments and investors to provide adequate defenses against cyberattacks. But these are vulnerabilities that, the New York Times writes, cannot be resolved in a short time, especially after years of insufficient investments. It also applies to electricity networks, which – as the cases of Texas and California, two of the most populous states in America – are not prepared to withstand extreme weather events, which will become more and more frequent due to climate change, threatening the economy and public health. At the national level, the power outages caused by the weather have increased by two-thirds since 2000, according to data from the Department of Energy.
Upgrading energy infrastructure – pipelines, power plants, transmission lines, service stations – and the companies that manage them to the new climate and IT will not be easy and will require large investments, both private and public.

INDEPENDENCE AND INNOVATION

Krauss writes that the quest for energy independence has never followed a straight line – fifty years ago the United States decided to burn more coal to reduce oil imports, despite the greatest pollution -, but it has often led to innovation.
Fracking, for example, the technique of fracturing shale deposits and extracting hydrocarbons, has made America a major producer of crude oil and gas and has strengthened it both at home and abroad: domestic energy prices have fallen; and Washington can compete with Russia for gas exports to Europe and can sanction Iranian and Venezuelan oil without fear of major blowbacks
And yet, the shale boom has made some parts of the country more vulnerable. The East Coast, first of all: many of the refineries in this area had to close because they could not compete with those on the Gulf Coast, more advanced and able to directly access the abundant and economic oil reserves from Texas. This situation has led to only one pipeline – the Colonial Pipeline, which connects the refineries on the Gulf to New Jersey – to meet almost half of the East Coast’s fuel needs.

Krauss writes that the quest for energy independence has never followed a straight line – fifty years ago the United States decided to burn more coal to reduce oil imports, despite the greatest pollution -, but it has often led to innovation.
Fracking, for example, the technique of fracturing shale deposits and extracting hydrocarbons, has made America a major producer of crude oil and gas and has strengthened it both at home and abroad: domestic energy prices have fallen; and Washington can compete with Russia for gas exports to Europe and can sanction Iranian and Venezuelan oil without fear of major blowbacks
And yet, the shale boom has made some parts of the country more vulnerable. The East Coast, first of all: many of the refineries in this area had to close because they could not compete with those on the Gulf Coast, more advanced and able to directly access the abundant and economic oil reserves from Texas. This situation has led to only one pipeline – the Colonial Pipeline, which connects the refineries on the Gulf to New Jersey – to meet almost half of the East Coast’s fuel needs.