Magazine article Security Management

Black Gold: The Nation's Security Blanket

Magazine article Security Management

Black Gold: The Nation's Security Blanket

Article excerpt


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. …

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