REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Rebecca Roberts.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
A fourth suspect in the alleged plot to bomb fuel facilities at JFK Airport surrendered today in Trinidad. When the case was first announced this past weekend in New York, U.S. attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf spoke of unfathomable death and destruction.
Ms. ROSLYNN MAUSKOPF (U.S. Attorney): The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable.
SIEGEL: According to the indictment, the suspects anticipated that some New York neighborhoods would explode if they bombed an underground. But as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, security experts say concerns about the impact of a pipeline explosion have been overblown.
PAM FESSLER: Half a million miles of underground pipelines carry oil and gas throughout the United States. Most are in isolated areas but some are not -like the one that carries jet fuel from Lyndon, New Jersey, through densely populated Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, New York, to a tank farm at JFK.
But Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline expert with Accufacts, an energy consulting firm, says fears at an explosion at one end of the pipeline would set off explosions throughout the underground network are unrealistic.
Mr. RICHARD KUPREWICZ (Pipeline Expert, Accufacts): It's just not going to happen. You can have a - what we call, potential impact zone at the release site, but the flame front will not go up or down the pipeline.
FESSLER: One reason is that the fuel in the pipelines is not highly combustible. It needs oxygen to burn and there are shut-off valves to stop the flow in an emergency.
Kuprewicz says he doesn't want to downside the potential damage, in fact, there have been serious pipeline accidents including one in Carlsbad, New Mexico in 2000 that killed 12 campers. But he says an explosion, even in the JFK fuel tanks would be fairly contained.
Mr. KUPREWICZ: There seems to be some effort to embellish the consequences that are not consistent with these assets, especially if the operation is - what I call, exercising control, prudently managing and operation their systems.
FESSLER: The JFK pipeline is operated by the Pennsylvania-based Buckeye Pipeline Company, which handles about 5,400 miles of pipeline overall. Spokesman Roy Haase says the company uses aerial patrols and control rooms to monitor the system around the clock. And he says the company works closely with government security officials.
Mr. ROY HAASE (Spokesman, Buckeye Pipeline Company): Our safety and our security features are quite well known to these people and we're in constant communications with them - state, local, federal authorities. We even go as far as to meet with local fire and police departments on a regular basis.
FESSLER: In fact, pipeline safety has long been regulated by the government. And security measures are not overseen by the Transportation Security Administration. But that agency has only 11 people in its pipeline division. And a recent congressional report questioned its effectiveness.
Aviation security expert Michael Boyd of Evergreen, Colorado says he has little confidence the agency can protect crucial pipelines from attack.
Mr. MICHAEL BOYD (Aviation Expert): Let's remember, the Transportation Security Administration is one that cannot even maintain security of their own ID badges, thousand of which were missing.
FESSLER: He says pipelines feeding airports are of particular concern because there's no other efficient way to supply millions of gallons of fuel to airliners.
Mr. BOYD: If we cut off that flow to five airports - and that could be done -for a period of a week or so, our transportation system would be severely mangled and that means our economy would. It's not the boom. It's not the explosion. It's the economic damage that it would cause.
FESSLER: But pipeline expert Richard Kuprewicz says, for the most part, pipelines can be quickly repaired. His biggest concern is that people will overreact the latest plot.
Mr. KUPREWICZ: If the reaction in on national security is to not tell people where pipelines are in their neighborhood, that's probably a step backwards.
FESSLER: He says public awareness is one of the best ways to protect pipelines because people are more likely to report anything suspicious if they know where to look.
Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.