OTTAWA/CALGARY Oct 14 Canadian energy companies
and officials share intelligence, scour social media and send up
surveillance drones but even so they say preventing a disruption
to the country's vast pipeline network is near impossible and
each side wants the other to do more.
This week, five oil pipelines carrying Canadian crude were
halted in the United States in an audacious act by protesters
opposed to oil sands development and a proposed new pipeline in
The coordinated attacks in isolated locations near the
Canadian border sparked a flurry of exchanges among pipeline
operators, police, Canada's national energy regulator and a U.S.
counterpart to assess the impact.
While they quickly consulted about the risk of the attacks
spreading, the disruption focused attention on how Canada would
deal with an assault on a huge network of pipelines
crisscrossing a country with the world's third-largest proven
"Pipelines are so long and so linear, they are like a
border, you cannot oversee every part of them." said Patrick
Keys, TransCanada vice president of Canadian Gas Pipelines
Five years ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
said in leaked documents that it saw a greater risk to
infrastructure from environmentalists than from religiously
inspired groups, a claim that raised some eyebrows.
Richard Fadden, who ran Canada's main spy agency until 2013
and was national security advisor to Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau until June, said that in a country the size of
Canada, "lowering the threat to absolute zero is impossible."
But he said there was scope for improvement, such as better
use of technology and surveillance drones.
"Those parts of the national infrastructure that attract
controversy become more worrisome and clearly pipelines fall in
this area. So we worry about it," said the former director of
the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
"It's not a single pipeline that is going to endanger the
national security. If it happens more than once, if there's a
trend, that's a different kettle of fish."
But while police and pipeline companies both want better
security, they look to each other to step up.
Energy companies already use surveillance cameras,
helicopters, and remote sensors as well as drones to monitor
some 119,000 km (74,000 miles) of pipelines across Canada, and
have an agreement to collaborate during an emergency. The
pipelines, most of which are underground, carry 3.4 million
barrels of crude oil a day.
But while pipeline companies and law enforcement authorities
share intelligence about perceived threats, corporate security
has little intelligence-gathering capabilities, Canadian Energy
Pipeline Association President Chris Bloomer said.
"They know who these opponents are, they can monitor the
websites, but there is tons of traffic, it's hard to get to, and
they are going to be operating in the dark corners," he said.
That's where energy companies would like to get more help
from the RCMP and CSIS, said Jeffrey Monaghan, a criminologist
at Carleton University whose research focuses on security. He
said the two sides work together and meet regularly, but there
is friction between the two.
"The pipeline companies are spending a lot of money on
security and they have a very direct strategic economic interest
in trying to get the RCMP to do more," said Monaghan. "The RCMP
has been muting their (threat) language because they don't want
to get trapped being private security guard."
A federal police source said Thursday that "radical
environmentalists aren't on our radar at the moment but they are
a possible terror group".
But collaboration on one side can seem like collusion from
another, and greater cooperation is met with resistance from
rights groups who argue the job of the police is to serve and
protect Canadians, not provide security for energy companies.
Last year, Canada's spy watchdog investigated complaints
from civil liberty and community groups that CSIS and the RCMP
were gathering intelligence on environmental activists and
sharing it with energy companies.
A TransCanada spokesman declined to discuss specific
meetings or briefings but said they were in "fairly regular
discussions" with law enforcement agencies about infrastructure
"We make no bones about the fact this relationship does and
needs to exist," said Mark Cooper.
Pipeline companies, meanwhile, are bracing for the next
round of clashes.
Kinder Morgan said it is in "deep conversations" with the
RCMP and will have specific guidelines for contractors slated to
build a proposed expansion where it is expecting blockades and
protests at the British Columbia site.
"We are planning from both a safety and security
standpoint," said Ian Anderson, president of the firm's Canadian
operations. "I would be naive if I didn't expect (protests) ...
It's when it goes beyond that that we will have to be prepared."
(Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr and Andrea Hopkins in
Ottawa; Editing by James Dalgleish)