Securing Critical Gas Infrastructure

by Clemente Fuggini and Miltiadis Kontogeorgos (ESR11)

The security and resilience of Europe’s critical gas infrastructure against natural hazards and physical threats, depend on new resilience concepts and investments in innovation

Source: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Europe relies heavily on imported natural gas, and the Gas Critical Infrastructure (GCI) involved in transporting, storing, and distributing it must be made secure and resilient to natural and physical events. However, the complexity of the gas network – including its diversity of transportation lines, geographies crossed, and production and storage facilities – make it a challenging environment to secure and a tempting target for attackers. Meanwhile, the attractiveness of the gas infrastructure is only growing, making it even more essential to protect it and make it resilient.

Natural gas accounts for 25% of Europe’s total energy consumption, and two thirds of this gas is imported, with the main supplier, Russia, providing around 40% of the gas. This dependency, along with the long history of tensions in countries along the Russian gas transit routes (specifically Ukraine and Belarus), have long fuelled concerns in the EU about the security of the Russian gas supply. The very  recent and ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine is enhancing this insecurity and is leading to enormous changes and rearrangements, regarding the EU energy dependency. Also, EU states including the Baltics, Bulgaria, and Greece, as well as central and eastern European countries that are not yet members of the EU (e.g., Ukraine before the conflict), are noticing an increase in threats to gas networks. These threats are physical in nature and are often combined into cyber-physical threats, without acknowledging the permanent presence of nature-induced hazards. Alongside the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the gas market and the seemingly unstable nature of EU-Russia gas relationship, these threats have heightened concerns about energy security right as Europe’s economy is slowly recovering from the pandemic, when cheap and guaranteed energy is most crucial. Safeguarding this supply will demand national efforts combined with EU-wide policy coordination.

European societies rely heavily on the effective functioning of gas critical infrastructure (CI). Yet due to their distributed nature and often public routes, gas grids are prone to nature-induced hazards, and physical attacks. Extreme natural events like the Asian tsunami in 2004, can lead to both natural (leakage of about 8,000 kilolitres of oil) and economic damage, or of less magnitude like  the failure of gas pipelines near Genoa in March 2014 due to landslide, which resulted in a major breakdown of the service for several days for the entire city of Genova[1]. The role of the physical and man-made threats to the asset integrity is not of less impact and magnitude, as within 1970-2016 and a total number of 1366 incidents, one main cause of incidents and source of potentially severe consequences has been identified in “external interference” (e.g., digging, piling or ground works by heavy machinery), covering the 28% of incidents’ responsibility, from 2007 to 2016[2]. Moreover, the scenarios of bombing or weapon attacks to during a war conflict is always present, as the Critical Gas Infrastructures are considered usually as hit targets by the enemy forces.

Managing risks and recognising vulnerabilities in the current infrastructure are major security concerns among gas enterprises. These challenges highlight the need for risk analysis and management, including preparation for and prevention and detection of physical threats, and mitigation strategies or high-level technological solutions for the protection against natural hazards, as well as optimised response, recovery, and restoration systems. The monitoring of the pipelines’ performance and structural health must be considered mandatory, for the constant supervision of the asset.

Role of EU Innovation Projects: INSPIRE perspectives and SecureGas Approach

Research and innovation programmes play a central role in enabling the scientific and industrial community to tackle current and emerging challenges posed by physical threats and natural hazards, not only at the “operational” level (e.g., new tools, high-level technological solutions, etc.), but also at the “strategic” level, by embedding a resilience approach into management processes of organisational security.

On the operational level and the exploitation of the EU research programs’ outcomes, for the scope of Critical Gas Infrastructures’ protection, the meta-materials can offer solutions to a wide range of issues and threats. Starting from the protection of buried or on-earth pipelines against surface explosions, to the implementation of concepts (e.g., barriers) for the protection against low-frequency vibrations, induced by ‘’external interferences’’, meta-materials can increase the safety and security of the gas transmission pipelines, aiming to their isolation against the threats and guaranteeing their operational continuity.

A further challenge on strategic level is the adaptation of traditional business models to a new, complex security environment, while responding to constraints faced by the industry. In this complex and evolving environment, the is the need for innovative solutions that:

  • Are designed to be applicable to all phases of the lifecycle of an infrastructure (from planning up to operation and maintenance), including the emergency/crisis management phase;
  • Provide a systemic view of risks and threats by adopting an all-risk approach;
  • Are flexible enough to be adapted to the needs and requirements of small to large companies;
  • Are easy to use and easy to operate;
  • Enable forward-looking approaches and strategies by mapping trends in technological and non-technological risks, thus supporting strategic and long-term decisions;
  • Put resilience at the core of operational applications, by preventing, promptly detecting, quickly responding to and cost-effectively recovering from disruptions

An indicative example of this combination of innovation projects and resiliency approach is the SecureGas project, although it is not so strictly focused to natural hazards, but is still offering a notion of implementing resiliency philosophy to the lifecycle of Critical Gas Infrastructures. SecureGas addresses the  needs mentioned before, by providing a set of solutions that integrate the resilience capabilities (plan/prepare, absorb, recover, and adapt) in the disaster risk management cycle (preparation, response, recovery and mitigation) within an asset lifecycle perspective, thus securing resilience across the various phases of the lifecycle of an infrastructure. Moreover, the project has developed a Conceptual Model (CM) and a High-Level Reference Architecture (HLRA), a blueprint and the rules for its implementation, detailing how gas installations and systems have to be planned, designed, constructed, operated and maintained to be secure and resilient against physical, cyber and cyber-physical threats. The project also developed a resilience-based solution for asset management of GCI, which includes support for gas companies in evaluating and identifying hazards and risks, a quantitative risk and resilience analysis, security threat management, a business continuity plan and management, competency management and training.

[1] Published on 21.03.2014

[2] Gas pipeline incidents, 10-th report of the European Gas Pipeline Incident Data Group (EGIG):

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