Democratic News

Aug 15 2016

Senator Cantwell and Secretary Moniz Call for Multi-Level Coordination to Prepare for and Respond to Energy-Related Emergencies

Field Hearing Examined How the Pacific Northwest is Preparing to Prevent and Minimize Energy Supply Disruptions

Cantwell, Moniz Talk Oil Volatility and Making Crude Safer for Transportation

Watch the field hearing live on Sen. Cantwell’s Facebook page.

Seattle, Wash.– Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) led a field hearing in Seattle with U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz to examine DOE’s role in preparing for and responding to emergencies that could threaten the operations and security of U.S. energy infrastructure. Such emergencies include crude-by-rail accidents, grid-related cyber security attacks, and potential natural disasters caused by the Cascadia Subduction Zone. At the hearing, Sen. Cantwell and Sec. Moniz were joined by industry experts, state and local officials to help identify the need for public-private partnerships and innovation for emergency response capabilities specifically in the Pacific Northwest.

Sen. Cantwell, ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Sec. Moniz discussed new preliminary findings from the DOE’s emergency planning exercises, including the recent Clear Path IV exercise. The exercise simulated the collaborative response of federal, state, local governments and public utilities to the Pacific Northwest after a natural disaster caused by activity in the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

The Pacific Northwest faces an imminent threat of a catastrophic magnitude 9 earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which stretches along the West Coast from Washington to California. Geological evidence indicates that seven earthquakes have occurred along the subduction zone during the last 3,500 years with intervals of 400 to 600 years. The last Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake happened more than 300 years ago and the region must be prepared for the next big one to hit. Such an earthquake and potential resulting tsunami could cause devastating damage to vital energy infrastructure.

“The United States is experiencing a dramatic transformation in how we produce, transport and consume energy. Many of those are positive changes, whether it comes from the grid or cleaner sources of energy consumers get more efficient and low-cost alternatives to meet their energy needs," said Sen. Cantwell. “But, we also know that these changes can also produce greater stress on our transportation and infrastructure.

“The energy industry along with federal, state and local governments must work closer together on these challenges – from updating our energy infrastructure to satisfying the demands for reliable, safe and affordable energy."

In addition to natural disasters, Sen. Cantwell also urged the need for protecting communities by making crude oil safer for transport by rail. Sen. Cantwell asked about DOE’s current studies of crude volatility and discussed the dangers of crude transported by rail. Since 2010, crude by rail shipments increased from zero to nearly 20 trains per week into Washington state. In addition, the West Coast at large has seen a 10,951 percent increase in oil trail traffic between 2010 and 2015. The rise in domestic oil transportation by rail has made Washingtonians increasingly concerned as there have been several recent high profile accidents involving trains carrying crude oil.

“Cities like Vancouver, Spokane and Seattle are very concerned about the safety of these oil trains and the high profile incidents that have occurred across the nation, including the derailment that happened in Mosier, Ore.," said Sen. Cantwell. “Twenty-six cities in our state have already passed resolutions expressing concern or outright opposition to oil trains."

During the hearing, Sec. Moniz thanked Sen. Cantwell for her focus on addressing and modernizing the nation’s energy emergency response in the FAST Act and in the Balanced Budget Act of 2015 and noted that the change in the way in which we are transporting commodities is putting "big strains on the system and we are feeling them." Moniz noted Bakken crude in particular has a high concentration of dissolved gasses and noted that examining the large amount of dissolved gasses is "exactly what is driving [DOE's] scientific work."

“The Department of Energy uses its expertise in transformative science and technology solutions to support and enhance our nation’s emergency response capabilities. Through our private and public partnerships, we apply these solutions to prepare for emergencies, mitigate risks and expedite restoration and recovery from incidents impacting the energy sector," said Sec. Moniz in his testimony. “Looking ahead, Congress will be a key partner in ensuring that we strengthen our prevention and response capabilities."

Secretary Moniz and several witnesses also addressed the growing threat of man-made attacks—both cyber and physical—on the U.S. electric grid. The Cantwell-led Energy Policy and Modernization Act of 2016, which passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis, includes provisions to establish DOE as the lead agency for addressing cyber-attacks in the energy sector, double DOE’s cyber security budget and to evaluate cyber and physical threat information sharing among federal and state agencies.

“Today, almost everything and everyone relies on a well-functioning electricity grid – our hospitals, first responders, water treatment facilities, fueling stations, transportation communications—everything will be impacted by a prolonged black-out," said Sen. Cantwell.

“The government has an obligation to coordinate with the private sector to reduce the impacts on our energy infrastructure," said Sen. Cantwell. “Getting that energy system up [after earthquakes, fires, droughts, floods and landslides] and operating again is critical."