DHS excess?

Aug. 1, 2009
CFATS program expanded to include gasoline terminals

Armed guards at petroleum terminals, even facilities as small as bulk plants operated by refined fuels distributors? This nightmare scenario could become a reality if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under Secretary Janet Napolitano has its way.

Late last year, DHS made a surprise announcement that it planned to include certain petroleum terminals that handle gasoline in its anti-terrorism standards that originally were developed for chemical plants. This expansion of the DHS program came without warning and may lack any justification.

“We believe there is no rational basis for the action taken by DHS,” says Peter Weaver, International Liquid Terminals Association director of regulatory compliance and safety. “We have not seen a defensible position from DHS on this issue, and they have failed to provide a rationale for their action.

“We've met with DHS officials to discuss this issue. We want to talk about the merits of the DHS position, but that hasn't occurred. We will continue to discuss this issue with DHS when possible, and we will pursue all administrative channels to try and properly resolve this issue.”

DHS secrecy

DHS initially targeted 3,000 gasoline storage facilities for inclusion in the expanded version of its Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, and more than 400 of them received a preliminary determination of high risk. Ten terminals with the high-risk designation reportedly have been assigned a Tier II risk level (based on a four-tier rating system), which means they must provide a robust anti-terrorist deterrence that can include armed guards.

“We don't know which facilities were selected for Tier II, and we don't know the specific reasons they were tiered the way they were,” Weaver says. “We don't know how large they are. We don't know the volume of fuel at those locations. We don't know their proximity to populated areas. Details about these facilities are classified.

“In fact, DHS has classified as secret much of the CFATS program that applies to gasoline terminals. They won't reveal the calculations used to determine risk classifications. All we know for sure is that their model doesn't match our empirical observations.”

Industry group

Those concerns — along with a view that gasoline simply doesn't pose the risk that justifies inclusion in CFATS — prompted ILTA to join with the American Petroleum Institute, the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association to oppose extending CFATS to include gasoline storage. In late 2008, the industry group submitted a technical paper to DHS describing the flammability characteristics of gasoline and requesting that the department reconsider the consequences it has attributed to fuel mixtures with a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) flammability hazard rating of 3.

It's important to note that the industry associations are not taking issue with CFATS as it applies to chemical facilities. The CFATS program combines national standards for chemical facility security with a comprehensive set of regulations that are intended to protect high-risk chemical facilities from attack and prevent theft of chemicals that could be used as weapons. The regulations authorize DHS to assess the vulnerabilities of plant sites, approve security plans, inspect facilities, and apply strong penalties — including plant shutdowns — for those that fail to comply.

The CFATS program includes a listing of Chemicals of Interest (COIs) that could pose a risk. Preliminary screening requirements for initially determining if a facility qualifies as high-risk under CFATS are triggered by the possession, in specified quantities, of certain types of chemicals, including:

  • Chemicals with the potential to create a toxic cloud or vapor cloud explosion that would affect populations within and beyond the facility if intentionally released;
  • Chemicals with the potential to affect populations within and beyond the facility if intentionally detonated;
  • Chemicals that could be stolen or diverted and used in explosives or improvised explosive devices;
  • Chemicals that could be stolen or diverted and used directly as chemical weapons or weapons of mass effect or easily converted into chemical weapons.

ILTA challenge

Reportedly, the CFATS highest risk classification, Tier I, includes toxic chemicals such as chlorine and NFPA Class 4 flammable chemicals, such as propane and butane. Gasoline contains a small percentage of butane (often as low as 1% or less), along with other hydrocarbons. DHS bureaucrats used that as justification to label gasoline a Chemical of Interest.

In May, ILTA challenged the DHS action with a petition to declare gasoline exempt from the CFATS program. The petition introduction states that ILTA believes “DHS regulation of gasoline stored in aboveground liquid terminals lacks a sound scientific basis.” ILTA listed two key arguments:

First, DHS is concerned that a terrorist attack against gasoline stored in aboveground liquid terminals could lead to an exploding vapor cloud that could result in significant injuries and loss of life. This is contrary to the best available scientific evidence demonstrating that gasoline stored in aboveground liquid terminals does not pose a vapor cloud explosion risk in a security context for three primary reasons:

  1. Gasoline stored in aboveground tanks presents a de minimus vapor cloud explosion risk in general;
  2. It is unrealistic to conclude that any of the five attack scenarios contemplated by DHS would create an explosive vapor cloud; and
  3. Even if a fire were initiated by an attack, any vapor cloud explosion risk would be eliminated by the fire itself.

Second, in promulgating its chemical facility regulations, DHS generally followed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Risk Management Program (RMP) rules that cover accidental releases to determine Screening Threshold Quantities. However, by including gasoline, which has an NFPA flammability hazard rating of 3 when stored in aboveground tanks, DHS unreasonably deviated from the RMP.

Additionally, ILTA believes DHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it added provisions covering mixtures to the final version of Appendix A to 6 CFR Part 27. DHS failed to provide notice that it proposed to include mixtures, such as gasoline. DHS also failed to consider the economic costs and impacts on the nation's energy supply, as required by Executive Order 13211.

DHS position

DHS continues to reject the points made by ILTA and the other industry groups that submitted the technical paper on gasoline flammability. In fact, the position at DHS remains virtually unchanged from what was expressed in a December 2008 letter to the group:

“You present a variety of arguments in support of your assertion that DHS is overstating the risks associated with gasoline storage facilities. We note, however, that your arguments are primarily based upon an examination of the [EPA's] safety-focused treatment of gasoline storage facilities. While the potential safety risks resulting from an accidental release may provide some insight into the potential consequences from an intentional terrorist attack, we cannot assume that the same approach used for an accidental release will apply, without variation, to an intentional terrorist attack scenario. After due consideration of the safety risks and the available science relating to gasoline storage, DHS believes it has reasonably tailored its modeling to account for the threat of vapor cloud explosions under various threat scenarios involving deliberate terrorist attacks.

“…DHS is confident that the modeling approach we have applied to determine a facility's preliminary risk level based on the possession of gasoline on-site is reasonable and appropriate. DHS used the vapor cloud explosion model relied on by EPA for all release-flammable Chemicals of Interest. As demonstrated by the Buncefield incident, a vapor cloud explosion at a fuel terminal is possible given the right set of physical and atmospheric conditions. DHS has determined that the vapor cloud explosion model accurately reflects a plausible worst-case scenario within realistic parameters when calculating offsite consequences of an explosion involving release-flammable COIs, including gasoline. For gasoline, DHS also adopted an adjustment to the EPA vapor cloud explosion model by lowering by tenfold the amount of gasoline that would actually participate in the explosion. DHS determined that this adjustment was reasonable and appropriate based on gasoline's combustion properties and ambient storage conditions as compared to other release-flammable COIs.”

Equating the Buncefield incident with a terrorist attack requires quite a leap of logic, according to risk management experts. As one expert put it: “Buncefield could happen again, given the right circumstances of time, weather, mechanical failure, and human error. However, manufacturing that set of circumstances is certainly beyond what even the most determined terrorists could manage.”

Buncefield incident

By way of background, the incident involving the Buncefield oil storage terminal north of London ranks as the worst peacetime explosion in the United Kingdom. It happened on December 11, 2005, and stands out as the single most significant vapor cloud explosion ever reported at any fuel terminal.

The incident started with an accidental overfill that went undetected for 40 minutes. Nearly 300 tonnes of gasoline spilled into an open dike and created a massive vapor cloud consisting of about 10% of the spilled fuel. A huge explosion resulted, generating much higher overpressures than are typical for a vapor cloud explosion, according to the official report by UK officials. Debate continues as to whether the blast was a detonation or low-pressure wave.

The explosion caused tremendous destruction in the surrounding area. Fire engulfed 23 large storage tanks and burned for five days. Smoke from the fires reportedly billowed as high as 9,000 feet. More than 40 people were injured, but there were no deaths.

ILTA says in its petition for a declaratory order that it is worth noting that nowhere in the Buncefield Investigation Report is there any conclusion that this incident could bear any relevance to enhanced risks due to terrorism, something that is known all too well in the United Kingdom.

ILTA goes on to say that if DHS insists on using the Buncefield incident as a justification for applying the CFATS requirements to gasoline, the department has a responsibility to demonstrate circumstances allowing such as incident to align in the context of a plausible terrorist attack. Considering that none of the terrorism scenarios envisioned by DHS involve a protracted attack that would enable formation of a massive vapor cloud, the department needs to provide adequate rationale to support its conclusions.

What DHS appears unwilling to concede is that the most plausible terrorist attack on a petroleum terminal would involve an explosive charge in a vehicle, aircraft, or rocket. The likely result would be a pool fire that would be contained at the facility.

“We definitely believe DHS is going in the wrong direction by including gasoline as a Chemical of Interest under CFATS,” Weaver says. “Including gasoline is a distraction diverting attention from more efforts to improve anti-terrorism security at facilities that truly do store high-risk products. It is imposing an unnecessary cost on industry without achieving any corresponding improvement in national security.”

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.