The U.S. energy sector faces significant challenges as a result of aging infrastructure, including supply security and reliability, and resiliency issues in the face of severe weather events, all posing a threat to public safety and the national economy. Between 2003 and 2012, weather-related outages, coupled with aging infrastructure, are estimated to have cost the U.S. economy an inflation-adjusted annual average of $18 billion to $33 billion. Some states have enacted “storm hardening” policies to improve reliability during weather events, but these are typically influenced by local politics, rather than engineers’ recommendations. Local solutions, such as distributed generation and resilient microgrids, may offer lower-cost alternatives to major system investments particularly in areas at elevated risk from severe weather or other natural disasters.
Periodic oil and gas pipeline leaks and failures present risks to the environment and the public. Most domestic oil refineries are situated along the coasts, subjecting them to risks from receding shorelines, climate change, and storm-related impacts. Each time there is a pipeline break or refinery outage, prices spike and supply is disrupted, with even minor disruptions having immediate impact. Statistics maintained by the PHMSA indicate that the frequency of significant pipeline incidences has remained flat in recent years; however, each incident typically results in injuries and/or deaths, environmental impacts, and regional economic disruption. Meanwhile, the number of reported “spill” events has increased in the last several years, up from 573 in 2012 to 715 in 2015, and events such as multiple leaks at the Aliso Canyon gas storage field in California and Colonial gasoline pipeline failures in Alabama have highlighted system fragility and prompted federal rulemaking. Various monitoring techniques including in-line nondestructive testing, leakage surveys, and remote sensing (enabled by fiber optics, LiDAR, others) have been developed to mitigate these problems and are in various stages of deployment. Automated valve shutoff to address earthquakes and leaks has also been critical in reducing consequences of failure to the public and the environment.
Cybersecurity and physical security remain important topics with respect to energy system resiliency and infrastructure owners are seeking to address them in response to federal mandates. Select energy systems such as the transmission grid are also exposed to low-probability severe threats, such as geomagnetic pulse, which could have significant impact on public safety and the economy.Back to Energy