- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Rising oil and gas prices, environmental concerns and the possibility of domestic gas shortages have drastically increased demand for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) within the United States.

There are six active U.S. LNG terminals, with 40 more marine LNG facilities proposed to service the U.S. market. LNG facilities are unique and the ships transporting it are highly visible and easily identified targets. They are extremely vulnerable to a terrorist attack, which if successful, could have catastrophic results. Within the continental United States, the U.S. Coast Guard, under the Department of Homeland Security, currently has the lead responsibility for LNG tanker and marine terminal security.

As the frequency of LNG tanker arrivals in U.S. ports increases, and new LNG terminals are built, U.S. Coast Guard resources and personnel are being severely overextended and are unable to balance the demand of LNG security requirements against other critical and growing Homeland Security responsibilities, as well as carry out their traditional search and rescue, law enforcement, marine safety and environmental protection missions.

Recent congressional testimony has shown there is a widening gap between the extent of LNG missions that the Coast Guard is called upon to perform and the budgets and resources currently available. In many cases, the U.S. Coast Guard is forced to fill these gaps by calling upon local law enforcement agencies to provide additional waterside security when LNG tankers deliver their shipments. In most cases, the local police departments do not have the level of training or legal authority that the Coast Guard has to conduct the water-based security missions and interventions. Furthermore, neither the Coast Guard nor the local law enforcement agencies are adequately funded or staffed to perform this mission.

The U.S. House of Representatives Coast Guard Authorization Act 2008, HR 2830 in Section 720 and 721 takes some positive steps to improve security for LNG terminals and tankers. While positive in intent, the House Bill incorrectly places full responsibility for security on government, state and local agencies.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the administration are right in objecting to the requirements as drafted. As written, it is too resource intensive at all levels. Further, it does not provide the U.S. Coast Guard any flexibility in adjusting resources to address various threat levels. However, it does allow the Coast Guard to take into consideration local law enforcement forces being applied. This does not solve the problem because this is an unfunded mandate for local governments and reduces their resources for traditional community law enforcement protection, which is not acceptable. Further, in most cases, they are not trained for this mission. You must have specially trained personnel such as counterterrorist SEALs to defeat a determined terrorist attack.

The solution is to place more responsibility for security on LNG terminal and tanker operators. There is an excellent precedence for this approach established by the U.S. Congress when it passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. This Act required tanker operators and oil terminals to have pre-established contracts for oil spill cleanup. This model should be applied to LNG terminals and tanker security as well. The Senate can correct the problem when it prepares the Senate (DELTE) version of the Coast Guard Authorization Act 2008. The Senate version should include the following:

c A requirement that LNG terminals and tanker operators directly or through contract provide necessary surveillance, tanker escort and waterside security to meet maritime (MARSEC Level 1) security threats.

c Authorization for the U.S. Coast Guard to accept and rely on surveillance, tanker escort and waterside security provided by the LNG terminal and tanker operator to meet routine (MARSEC Level 1) security threats.

c A requirement for approval by the U.S. Coast Guard of the necessary surveillance, tanker escort and waterside security to meet routine (MARSEC Level 1) to be provided by the LNG terminal operators as part of the basic application for an operating license.

The joint House Senate conference then needs to include the above provisions in the final U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act for 2008.

James A. Lyons Jr., a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (the largest single military command in the world), senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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