WASHINGTON, July 26, 2017 - The top Democrats on the Senate and House Energy committees have asked the Government Accountability Office to assess the current protections for U.S. natural gas, oil and other hazardous liquid pipelines and infrastructure.

In the letter to the GAO, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey wrote, “An assessment of these guidelines and their effectiveness is needed as a number of major trends have emerged, with potentially significant implications for our energy, national and economic security. These include both the increasing interdependence of U.S. electric and natural gas infrastructure, and the evolving nature of cyber threats from both criminal and foreign state actors.”

 “The results of this assessment will help policymakers evaluate the security of our nation's energy assets, which are critical to the safety, security, and economic well-being of the country,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter was released by Canwell at a recent hearing at which she asked Stephen Cheney, the chief executive officer of the American Security Project and a retired Marine brigadier general, how much the U.S. needs to be thinking about upgrading the security of its critical energy infrastructure, considering to recent cyber attacks both international and domestically.

“There is no doubt cyber is a huge threat,” Cheney said. “A threat to our security, threat to our energy sources. As you well explained, there have been multiple attacks on all of our grids. And if we just put our heads in the sand and don’t put the funding towards it or research that is needed to counter these, it is going to get worse, significantly worse,”

Cantwell quoted a 2013 article from the Christian Science Monitor that reported that said “cyberspies linked to China’s military targeted nearly two dozen U.S. natural gas pipeline operators… stealing information that could be used to sabotage U.S. gas pipelines.”

When Cantwell asked what types of cybersecurity actions the government should be pursing, Cheney said: “The vast majority of our utilities are privately owned in this country. And forcing upon them to do the research to necessarily help counter cyber threats is not the way to go about doing that. I think you need to fund that at a federal level. You need to do research and development on cyber. You need to have a healthy cyber command that is looking at these threats. You need to assist all the utilities in the country on countering these threats. DHS (Department of Homeland Security) needs to be involved. They need to be robustly funded, to counter the threat that’s there.”

“The United States must prioritize the protection of our critical energy infrastructure,” Cantwell said. “We cannot wait before we have a large-scale attack before we act.”

Cantwell also sent a letter to the Transportation Security Administration, the federal entity tasked with pipeline cybersecurity, posing the same questions.