NC lawmakers hear about efforts to guard against cyberattacks following Colonial Pipeline hack

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As people deal with the fallout from the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline and the struggle to find gasoline, state lawmakers heard Tuesday about efforts to guard against these attacks and concerns about North Carolina’s reliance on two major pipelines. 

Sen. Brent Jackson (R-10th District) warned of the likelihood of another cyberattack.  

“The Colonial Pipeline distribution could have been much worse and it’s foolish to think North Carolina would not face a more severe energy supply shock in the future,” he said. “It’s a question of when, not if.” 

Edward Finley, former chairman of the North Carolina Utilities Commission, told a Senate committee about the complexities of guarding against these kinds of attacks for a variety of utilities.  

“Grid operators are typically further ahead in preparing for cyberattacks than oil and gas systems in part because federal regulators have long required cybersecurity standards for the backbone of the nation’s power grid. Still, vulnerabilities remain,” he said. “Part of this is sheer complexity of the grid. Not all levels of the grid face mandatory standards, for instance. And there are more than 3,000 utilities in the country with varying cybersecurity practices.” 

Representatives of Duke Energy and Dominion Energy talked about some of the steps they’ve taken to try to minimize the impact of cyberattacks.  

The recent attack “reinforces the need for additional grid investment so we can maintain not just fuel diversity but also ensure a resilient electric system for all hazards,” said Nelson Peeler, a senior vice president at Duke Energy. “In general, we have enough back-up fuel for a couple of days without replenishment.” 

Sen. Paul Newton (R-36th District) pointed to the state’s reliance primarily on the Colonial Pipeline for fuel like gasoline and the Transco Pipeline for natural gas.  

“Our growth, our prosperity as a state will be constrained if we do not build more natural gas access,” he said.  

Last year, Duke and Dominion announced they were canceling the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which was a planned natural gas pipeline, amid lawsuits and rising costs. 

“It would be additional natural gas resiliency for the state,” said Peeler. 

Sen. Newton also called attention to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality reissuing a denial of a water permit for the MVP Southgate Pipeline. The agency said late last month that “a conditional approval in these circumstances does not provide the reasonable assurance of compliance with water quality requirements.” 

The pipeline would run from southern Virginia to central North Carolina.  

“I think (DEQ) should feel some pressure. I think Southgate should have been approved on the condition that Virginia approved. There’s no reason to deny the permit for MVP Southgate,” Newton said.

Democrats highlighted the need for policies promoting greater use of renewable energy sources, like wind, saying there needs to be a broad approach to diversifying the energy sources on which the state relies.  

“We know some of these old fossil fuels are going to eventually go away because they aren’t cost-effective anymore and they cause more problems than the benefits they provide,” said Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham).  

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