Terrorist plot to blow up Buckeye line to JFK was unlikely to work, experts say

Terrorists thought an explosion anywhere along pipeline to JFK airport would set off a chain reaction that would kill “millions,” but they were misinformed.
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June 4, 2007 - PRLog -- NEW YORK – While federal authorities in the United States warned of the danger posed by four men who hoped to blow up fuel tanks at Kennedy International Airport and a pipeline through Queens, oil industry executives and local officials said that such a plot – especially one envisioning a “river of fire” along the pipeline corridor that “would kill millions of Americans” - was probably unrealistic.
   According to Noel Griese, editor of Atlanta-based Energy Pipeline News newsletter, some media reports and those allegedly involved apparently believed a bomb placed somewhere along the pipeline would create a chain reaction, with flames traveling through the pipeline and igniting all points and tanks served by the line.
   "There's been a lot of overblown statements concerning the consequences of blowing up a pipeline," said company Vice President Stephen Muther. "Pipelines can usually be repaired and put back into operation within a matter of days."
   He added that daily foot and aerial patrols guard the pipeline and that all security measures are approved by federal authorities.
   "We feel we have adequate security provisions in place to protect the pipelines," Muther said.
   He admitted, however, that the line has experienced “mishaps.” In 1985, the pipeline was punctured on Staten Island when a construction worker drove a backhoe into a valve. It was reported at the time that 35,000 gallons of gasoline spilled into the street, as dozens of homes were evacuated and 200 firefighters responded. No one was hurt in the incident.
   Although the tanks at Kennedy Airport are connected by a network of underground pipes running from New Jersey through Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, an exploding tank should not ignite the pipeline, another Buckeye official said. The pipes, which carry jet fuel, gasoline and heating oil, have valves that can be operated from headquarters in Pennsylvania to cut off the flow if sensors indicate that there might be a leak or rupture, said Roy Haase.
   “It’s not like the pipeline is a stick of dynamite and the whole thing would blow up,” Haase said. He said it was more likely that the damage from an exploding tank would be limited to the immediate area around the tank.
   Each of the fuel tanks at Kennedy “is its own self-contained unit” 200 to 300 feet from the nearest road, said Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport.
   Anthony E. Shorris, executive director of the New York Port Authority, disputed the suspects’ notion, as stated in the criminal complaint, that the tanks had minimal security during the daytime. At a news conference on June 2, Shorris said, “There are Port Authority police patrols that are regularly in place around all of them.” He said the tanks were also equipped with alarm systems and firefighting equipment.
   Still, when the New York Police Department learned of the plot, officers began monitoring the pipeline from helicopters and boats, said Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner.
Haase said that Buckeye employees inspected the pipeline every day, on foot and in cars. They are not usually looking for terrorists, he said, but for contractors digging too close to the pipes.
   He said there had not been a significant fire involving the pipeline in its 41 years of existence. During that time, he said, billions of gallons of fuel have moved through the pipeline, which originates in Linden, N.J. From there, two pipes, each 12 inches in diameter, run east through the heart of Staten Island and under New York Bay to a junction in the New Lots section of Brooklyn. One pipe carries jet fuel for planes at Kennedy and La Guardia Airports and one carries diesel fuel for trucks, heating oil and gasoline.
   From New Lots, one branch goes north to a terminal at Long Island City and on to La Guardia. The other continues east to Kennedy and on to a terminal in Inwood. All told, Buckeye delivers more than eight million gallons of petroleum to the city each day, Haase said.
   “We have security and safety measures in place and those features are very well known to the Fire Department, the Police Department, the F.B.I. and Homeland Security,” he said.

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