Ex-FBI agent says terrorism unlikely in Rifle-area gas fields | AspenTimes.com

Ex-FBI agent says terrorism unlikely in Rifle-area gas fields

Mike McKibbin
Rifle correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. ” Thousands of natural gas wells, pipelines, compressor stations, gas plants and other facilities in western Garfield County and northwestern Colorado are probably not an inviting target for a terrorist group, according to a former 25-year Federal Bureau of Investigation agent trained in counter terrorism.

John Lip is now in charge of security for EnCana Oil and Gas.

“Some of the most critical energy-related infrastructures in the U.S. are right here,” he said. “We have to consider both the physical and the cyber attacks that could cause problems. But my opinion is there are many other more viable targets than the oil and gas industry out here. I haven’t seen any evidence of something going on.”

While some might think such an attack would come from radical Middle Eastern groups or countries, Lip said domestic terrorist groups would probably be more likely to single out the area’s gas fields.

Lip points to the arson fires at several Vail Ski Resort buildings several years ago, set by members of the Earth Liberation Front, as an example of domestic terrorism that can happen. As an FBI agent, Lip helped investigate that incident.

“If some group out there hears that a new road is about to be cut into the Roan (Plateau), there may be some heightened awareness,” he said. “You’d start to see things like vandalism, removing signs and survey stakes and even ‘monkey wrenching’ of heavy equipment. Things like that will escalate when some group might be planning something.”

Kevin McDermott is a safety specialist with Williams Production, another of the area’s largest gas producers. He is in charge of security for the company’s activities in the Parachute area and said counter terrorism plans are in place.

“If the homeland security threat levels go up, we’ll get those plans out and take a look at what we should be doing,” he said.

Since most gas wells and other facilities are operated around the clock, personnel are nearly always on scene, McDermott said. They are trained to be on the watch for anyone out of place and to report suspicious activity. Area homeowners also help in that area, said Williams spokeswoman Susan Alvillar.

It’s important gas companies don’t overreact to small, individual incidents and think they’re the start of terrorism, Lip said.

While terrorist concerns are part of their jobs, Lip and McDermott both said they spend much more time on more common concerns, such as traffic.

Lip is working with Williams, other gas operators and law enforcement agencies to jointly purchase mobile radar signs to help curb speeding on county roads. Cameras could be attached to those signs to capture license plate numbers so drivers can be issued tickets, Lip said.

A survey of county roads this summer found vehicles traveled at speeds of up to 80 mph, although not all were gas industry-related vehicles, said Mike Vander Pol, office manager of the county road and bridge department.

McDermott said Williams limits their vehicles to traveling 10 mph below the posted speed limit in the Rulison area.

Several sites, including Williams’ gas plant outside Parachute, have alarms and closed-circuit cameras, McDermott said.

Wildlife poaching, vandalism, fraud and the theft of solar panels used to power remote monitoring equipment are other areas Lip addresses.

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