Two weeks ago, the ExxonMobil complex in Baytown, Texas caught fire after a petrochemical unit exploded. This was the latest in a series of incidents at petrochemical units in the area: in March and April a series of fires occurred at the same ExxonMobil complex and nearby petrochemical storage facilities, releasing pollutants. Harris County, the county where these facilities are located, conducted an analysis of how local agencies and officials were responding to these incidents. As a result, the county decided to focus on improving communications during incident response—specifically, improving communications between agencies responding to the incidents and keeping the public informed.
The US nuclear industry’s safety record is stellar, in part thanks to NRC regulations that arose from Three Mile Island. But complying with NRC regulations is costly: annual ongoing regulatory costs can range from $7.4 million to $15.5 million per plant and can have significant impact on plants and companies’ profitability—with regulatory costs in some cases exceeding profit margins. But while complying with NRC regulations is necessary, the high costs don’t have to be. Nuclear plants can easily and cost-effectively meet NRC regulations with streamlinedemergency preparedness plans that rapidly address events while reducing potential for error.
A historically industrial area, Marshall County, West Virginia is accustomed to the occasional industrial emergency. So, when a gas pipeline exploded in June of 2018, people knew exactly what to do. As first responders handled over 37 calls in 3 minutes, they dispatched resources to the site of the emergency. No fatalities, injuries, or property damage was reported as a result of the emergency and damage was contained to 1,100 feet around the site. This was in part thanks to Marshall County’s oil and gas task force, which brings together emergency management officials, first responders, local schools, and representatives from the oil and gas industry to address potential emergencies. Marshall County’s oil and gas task force and its impact on emergencies highlights the importance of engaging multiple stakeholders via regular communications when it comes to incident response.
After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Department of Energy (DoE) asked the National Petroleum Council (NPC) to provide specific actionable steps to better prepare the oil and natural gas industry’s response to natural disasters. In response, the NPC released “Enhancing Emergency Preparedness for Natural Disasters” in 2014, which included a series of recommendations for emergency preparedness, response and recovery in the oil and natural gas industry. A key finding? That effective communications during emergency response is a major challenge for the industry and that a standardized, rehearsed approach toward communications that addresses escalated and expanding responses as an event unfolds is critical.
For more than a decade, the energy and utilities industry has been investing in smarter energy infrastructure in order to enhance energy grid resiliency, reliability and efficiency. Grid modernization has become essential to integrating an increasing number of renewable energy sources and technologies – or distributed energy sources (DERs) – including electric vehicles, energy storage, private solar and smart appliances.
In February 2018, the United States Department of Energy established the new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER), focused on cybersecurity, energy security and emergency response with $96 million in government funding – and not a moment too soon. One month later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert alleging that Russian hackers mounted a methodical, long-term campaign to infiltrate and surveil critical US energy and utility infrastructure.