Former Navy SEAL: Keystone XL would be an easy target for terrorists

A new report finds that the pipeline is extremely vulnerable to attack

By Lindsay Abrams
Published June 5, 2014 5:20PM (EDT)

Just "a limited number of terrorists," a "small amount of explosives" and "some basic hand tools," applied to the northern leg of Keystone XL, would be enough to "wreak havoc" on the heart of America, a new report found.

The risk analysis was commissioned by NextGen Climate, the political group headed up by billionnaire Tom Steyer, and was conducted by David M. Cooper, a recently retired Command Master Chief Navy SEAL. In a worse-case scenario, Cooper said, a coordinated attack could cause an oil spill the likes of which we haven't seen since Exxon-Valdez, dumping up to 8 million gallons of Canadian crude into the water and land along the pipeline's route.

HuffPost's Kate Sheppard reports:

In his analysis, Cooper gamed out likely scenarios at a location in Nebraska, along the route of the existing Keystone pipeline (known as Keystone 1). A spill there, he said, would threatened drinking water and arable land that millions of Americans rely on every day. He also said he found that there was little security at sites along the route.

"TransCanada says their physical security plans are confidential. I applaud that. I can't argue with that," he said. But, he added, "That doesn’t jibe with what I saw when I visited an actual site. There was no security."

Pipelines in general, said Cooper, are "soft targets," and the Keystone XL is no exception. "It's 1,200 miles long. It doesn't move. It's really easy to attack. It's in remote, agricultural areas," he said. "That remoteness really gives terrorists impunity to move in and out of those areas without being seen."

And even though it's not constructed, the Keystone XL pipeline has generated more attention than any other previous pipeline in the U.S. — which Cooper argued makes it more vulnerable. "It's perhaps the highest profile piece of energy infrastructure we have," he said. "That adds to its attractiveness to anybody who might want to do damage. "

TransCanada, the company that would build and operate the pipeline, argued that Steyer's sponsorship of the report negates it entirely, seeing as how he "is committed to killing Keystone XL."

Cooper, however, swears that his conclusions weren't swayed by anti-oil sentiment. “We have this habit of sometimes not seeing the signs, or not wanting to see the signs,” he told Businessweek. “So the real purpose of me doing this is to get this information in the hands of the administration and the American public so they can really make a more informed decision."

The State Deparment, to that end, confirmed that it received a copy of the report, but hasn't scheduled any meetings with Cooper. It added that its final recommendation to President Obama, who will make the final decision about whether or not to approve the pipeline, "will take a number of factors into consideration, including the national security of the United States."

Lindsay Abrams

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Keystone Xl Keystone Xl Pipeline Oil Tarsands Terrorists