September 2023, Vol. 250, No. 9


Latest Pipeline Security Initiatives Inside, Outside of NATO

By Gordon Feller, P&GJ Eurasia Correspondent 

(P&GJ) — Following the attack on the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline a year ago, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg discussed the protection of critical infrastructure with NATO’s members. He made a special point of reaching out to German leaders and to Denmark’s defense minister, since this is the country closest to the damage.

A few weeks before the 2023 Vilnius Summit, Stoltenberg said this about underwater infrastructure following the meeting of NATO Ministers of Defense in Brussels: “We know that Russia has the capacity to map, but also potentially to conduct actions against critical infrastructure. And that’s also the reason why we have, for many years, addressed the vulnerability of critical undersea infrastructure.” 

He added that while this pertained to gas and oil pipelines, there were also thousands of miles of internet cables, “critical for our modern societies.” In this instance, he was particularly concerned with the North Sea, in the Baltic Sea, but also referenced “the whole Atlantic the Mediterranean Sea.” 

Based on the initiative from German Chancellor Scholz and Danish Prime Minister Støre, NATO agreed to establish the NATO Maritime Centre for the Security of Critical Undersea Infrastructure. 

“Of course, there’s no way that we can have NATO presence alone all these thousands of kilometers of undersea, offshore infrastructure, but we can be better at collecting information, intelligence, sharing information, connecting the dots, because also in the private sector is a lot of information,” Stoltenberg added. “There’s a lot of ongoing monitoring of traffic at sea and to connect all those flows of information will increase our ability to see when there is something abnormal and then react dependent on that.” 

Stoltenberg regularly points out that most of this critical infrastructure goes from one NATO Ally to the territorial waters into international waters and then into the federal waters of another Ally or another country.  

Stoltenberg said while the center has capabilities to protect and do repair work it’s purpose is to is to bring together Allies to share information, share best practices, and to be able to react if something abnormal happens. 

The Vilnius Summit of 2023 summed up NATO position as follows: 

“The threat to critical undersea infrastructure is real and it is developing. We are committed to identifying and mitigating strategic vulnerabilities and dependencies with respect to our critical infrastructure, and to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors.  

“Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure will be met with a united and determined response; this applies also to critical undersea infrastructure. The protection of critical undersea infrastructure on Allies’ territory remains a national responsibility, as well as a collective commitment. NATO stands ready to support Allies if and when requested.  

We have agreed to establish NATO’s Maritime Centre for the Security of Critical Undersea Infrastructure within NATO’s Maritime Command (MARCOM). We also agreed to set up a network that brings together NATO, Allies, private sector, and other relevant actors to improve information sharing and exchange best practice.” 

A few big themes emerged from NATO’s July Summit in Vilnius, which convened Ministers and heads of state in July of this year: 

Foremost among those is the time is right to expand a range of maritime and pipeline security cooperation arrangements with Azerbaijan and Georgia.  

The security of Black Sea maritime infrastructure, especially undersea pipelines and communications cables is critical for the diversification of energy supplies to Europe, and doing so requires broadened collaboration with these non-NATO countries.  

Appropriate maritime and pipeline (undersea and overland) safety capabilities – such as finance assistance, training programs and exercises – should be developed. Additionally, information-sharing should be further developed as it relates to securing pipelines and maritime rights. 

A second big development came when Cyprus, Greece, and Israel established the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, a coordination body that facilitates the development of an Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline to bring energy to Europe. Egypt and Jordan were included in the forum, but, notably, Türkiye was excluded.  

As a result, the national government in Ankara forged ahead with its own energy exploration, signing deals with Libya’s U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord. Türkiye sent out exploration vessels in contested waters surrounding Cyprus. The small island country is a point of contention between Greece and Türkiye, with sizable Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations.  

The long-simmering dispute over the divided island is now bleeding over into maritime disputes involving significant energy reserves. Added to this are renewed efforts by Italy’s Meloni government to pen energy deals like that recently agreed with Algeria to make Italy an energy hub for the region. Overall, energy competition is becoming a zero-sum game among regional allies. 

Additionally, NATO placed greater emphasis on critical infrastructure security, particularly electricity and data lines, as well as underwater oil and gas pipelines, will be a primary concern.  

The Nord Stream 2 attack highlighted the vulnerability of pipelines and other infrastructure to potential attacks. NATO established a new coordination office to enhance communications between the military alliance, national governments and the private operators of these installations. However, with over 5,590 miles (9,000 km) of gas pipelines alone in the North Sea, the NATO Summit recognizes that it cannot guarantee 100% security. 

The secure operation of oil and gas pipelines has become increasingly crucial for global security because it’s so fundamental to both energy stability and economic prosperity. Recognizing the emerging energy vulnerabilities that are pushing governments to focus on pipeline security, both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and non-NATO initiatives have emerged to address the challenges posed by potential threats.  

Among the various NATO initiatives worth noting, the following deserve special consideration: 

Pipeline Protection – NATO officials regularly acknowledge that energy security is vital to maintaining regional stability, especially following the oil and gas shock which resulted from Putin’s war on Ukraine.  

Over the years, the alliance has established a comprehensive approach to address energy security challenges, including the protection of critical energy infrastructure such as oil and gas pipelines. NATO provides a platform for member states to share information, conduct assessments, and develop strategies to enhance pipeline security. 

Information Sharing – NATO fosters cooperative security through information sharing and intelligence cooperation among member states. The alliance encourages the exchange of best practices, risk assessments and threat intelligence related to oil and gas pipeline security. This collaboration strengthens the collective response to potential threats and enhances the resilience of pipeline systems. 

Joint Exercises, Training – NATO conducts joint exercises and training programs to enhance the preparedness and capabilities of member states in securing critical infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines. These exercises provide opportunities for participating nations to develop interoperability, practice crisis management, and improve coordination among different stakeholders involved in pipeline security. 

Cooperative Cyber-Defense Cyber-threats pose a significant risk to the security of oil and gas pipelines. NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense initiative aims to improve member states’ cyber-defense capabilities and enhance the protection of critical infrastructure, including pipeline systems. The alliance promotes information sharing, joint exercises, and the development of cyber-defense strategies to counter potential cyberattacks. 

Non-NATO Initiatives 

In addition to NATO, there are several organizations working to enhance pipeline security:  

International Energy Agency (IEA) The IEA is an autonomous agency that works to ensure reliable, affordable, and clean energy for its member countries. It actively addresses pipeline security concerns by monitoring global energy markets and analyzing potential disruptions. The IEA provides member states with policy advice and emergency response measures to mitigate risks and enhance the security of oil and gas pipelines. 

International Maritime Organization (IMO) While primarily focused on maritime security, the IMO recognizes the interconnectedness between maritime transportation and energy infrastructure, including pipelines. The organization collaborates with member states to develop guidelines and regulations for the safe and secure transport of oil and gas. By addressing maritime security risks, the IMO indirectly contributes to pipeline security. 

International Pipeline Security Forum (IPSF) The IPSF is a global platform that brings together industry stakeholders, governments, and security experts to address pipeline security challenges. Through information sharing, best practice sharing, and capacity-building initiatives, the IPSF promotes dialogue and cooperation among different actors involved in securing oil and gas pipelines worldwide. 

Pipeline Security Certification Program – Various organizations and industry bodies have developed certification programs to enhance pipeline security. These programs focus on risk assessment, threat analysis, security planning, and emergency response. By implementing standardized security measures and best practices, pipeline operators can improve the resilience and protection of their infrastructure. 

At a time when geopolitical competition AND geo-economic competition are both rising, ensuring the security of oil and gas pipelines has become a complex and multifaceted challenge. Both NATO and non-NATO initiatives play vital roles in enhancing pipeline security.  

NATO’s cooperative approach, information sharing mechanisms, joint exercises and focus on cyber-defense contribute significantly to member states’ preparedness and resilience. Non-NATO initiatives such as the IEA, IMO, IPSF and pipeline security certification programs complement NATO efforts by addressing specific aspects of pipeline security and fostering international collaboration.  

The hope is that, by working together, these initiatives will actually enhance global energy security, mitigate risks, and promote the safe and reliable operation of oil and gas pipelines for the benefit of both end-users and pipeline owner-operators. 

It is notable that NATO has its own pipeline system, one which is designed to ensure that its requirements for petroleum products and their distribution can be met at all times. 

The NATO Pipeline System (NPS) was set up during the Cold War to supply NATO forces with fuel and it continues to satisfy fuel requirements with the flexibility that today’s security environment requires. The NPS consists of 10 distinct storage and distribution systems for fuels and lubricants. In total the NPS runs about 6,200 miles (10,000 km). 

[Editor’s note: The longest of NATO’s pipelines, CEPS, is a 12-inch, 300-mile route for liquids in France. It is listed among PGJ’s “Largest Pipelines in Europe,” also found in this issue.]  

The NPS links together storage depots, military air bases, civil airports, pumping stations, truck and rail loading stations, refineries and entry/discharge points. 

Bulk distribution is carried out using facilities from the common-funded NATO Security Investment Program. 

The networks are controlled by national organizations, with the exception of the Central Europe Pipeline System (CEPS), which is a multinational system managed by the CEPS Programme Office under the aegis of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency. 

The NPS is overseen by the Petroleum Committee, which is the senior advisory body in NATO on consumer logistics and, more specifically, on petroleum issues.  

The Petroleum Committee reports to the Logistics Committee on all matters of concern to NATO in connection with military fuels, lubricants, associated products and equipment, the NPS and other petroleum installations. 

The NPS consists of eight national pipeline systems and two multinational systems. The national pipeline systems include: 

  •   Greek Pipeline System (GRPS)  
  •   Icelandic Pipeline System (ICPS)  
  •   Northern Italy Pipeline System (NIPS)  
  •   Norwegian Pipeline System (NOPS)  
  •   Portuguese Pipeline System (POPS)  
  •   Turkish Pipeline System (TUPS), which comprises two separate pipeline systems known as the Western Turkey Pipeline System and the Eastern Turkey Pipeline System. 

There are also two multinational pipeline systems: 

  • North European Pipeline System (NEPS) located in Denmark and Germany. 
  • Central Europe Pipeline System (CEPS) covering Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This is the largest system. 

In addition to the national and multinational systems, there are also fuel systems in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. 

The policy of the 31 member governments of NATO is straightforward: optimum use of NATO petroleum facilities in peacetime is essential for the proper maintenance of the NPS and the necessary training of its staff.  

NATO members use the facilities to the fullest extent practicable for military purposes and use spare capacity for commercial traffic providing that does not detract from the primacy of the military use of the system. 

The NATO Pipeline System was initially conceived, and then set up, during the Cold War to supply Alliance forces with fuel. 

In order to support the new missions of the Alliance, the emphasis has shifted away from static pipeline infrastructure to the rapidly deployable support of NATO’s expeditionary activities.  

To this end, NATO has developed a modular concept whereby all fuel requirements can be satisfied through a combination of 16 discrete but compatible modules which can receive, store and distribute fuel in any theatre of operation. The concept also enables both NATO and partner countries to combine their capabilities to provide a multinational solution to meet all fuel requirements. 

Even with the emphasis on expeditionary operations, the existing static pipeline infrastructure remains an important asset for the Alliance. Since the end of the Cold War, the NPS has been used to support out-of-area operations from the European theatre or using NATO airfields as an intermediate hub.  

The sudden increase in fuel demand mainly for airlift and air-to-air refueling can only be met by the NPS, which remains the most cost-effective, secure and environmentally safe method of storing and distributing fuel to Alliance forces. 

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