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Cybersecurity: The Next Great Battlefield

In this series of articles running through July, RealClearPolitics and RealClearDefense take an in-depth look at the intersection of cybersecurity, technology, and warfare in the 21st century. Below is Part 12.

The energy sector is inextricably linked to national security. Safety concerns often circle back to OPEC’s historic influence on global crude oil prices and global production levels. However, rising U.S. production will continue to help insulate our markets from the impacts of foreign players.  Where one threat subsides, however, another rises: cybersecurity. 

Cyberattacks and the continued uncertainty of OPEC’s machinations highlight 21st century threats to the U.S. energy industry that require new, 21st century solutions. Investing in a stronger network of energy infrastructure will help stave off these pressures. 

If the oil crisis of 1973 proved one thing, it was that that our nation had a crippling dependency on foreign nations to meet our energy needs. Ever since, energy advocates have pushed to ramp up domestic drilling and production. More than four decades later, new shale rock discoveries and innovative drilling technologies ushered our country into a new energy renaissance.  With production in the Permian Basin forecast to continue to grow, our nation is poised to extend this era for years to come. 

Yet we’re still sitting outside OPEC meeting rooms anxiously waiting to hear whether leaders have decided to choke or elevate production levels. Will their decisions send global gas prices through the roof or put thousands of Americans out of work? Most recently, OPEC leaders agreed to increase oil production, but won’t say by how much. The uncertainty and volatility are costly burdens for the American market to bear. Not to mention, it’s a serious national security problem. In 2018, we’re still at the mercy of OPEC — but we shouldn’t have to be. 

In a post-shale-boom world, the U.S. has access to more energy today than ever before in history, threatening OPEC’s market share. But we face a different kind of shortage: an energy infrastructure shortage. There aren’t enough midstream pipelines to get all the oil and gas to where it needs to go fast enough. The bottleneck is limiting our supply potential and the problem is only predicted to worsen in the coming years, as supply will continue to climb. 

A lengthy pipeline permitting process, lawsuit-crazed opposition groups, and legal uncertainty have all contributed to an especially sluggish infrastructure build-out. Many proposals wait in limbo for years before they’re even allowed to begin construction. Focusing on streamlining a safe and thorough permitting process will speed up construction, eliminate the chokehold, dissipate OPEC pressures, and return control of our energy market back home. 

A newer and growing security risk to the American energy sector is cyberattacks. The Department of Energy recently released a memo expressing concern over increasing threats to the natural gas pipeline system. Several U.S. pipeline companies reported that hackers, likely trying to steal consumer and business data, successfully shut down their third-party electronic communications systems in late March and early April. Invasions of pipeline communications systems could affect delivery and price as well as cause fires, spills, and other life-threatening disasters. As a response, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Neil Chatterjee and Richard Glick recently wrote an article stating that our nation’s network of pipelines is not adequately secure from cyberattacks. 

The U.S. should be equipped with the latest pipeline technology to protect from hackers who want to steal sensitive information or cause disruptions -- or worse. If we prioritize a more efficient build-out of state-of-the-art energy infrastructure, our nation’s innovative capacity will expand and perhaps we’d be able to stay ahead of the hackers. 

Growing national security concerns at home and abroad underscore an important need for our nation to invest in a stronger and more resilient network of pipelines. It’s time to take back control of our energy future. 

James “Spider” Marks is a retired U.S. Army major general and president of the Marks Collaborative.

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