Drones pose significant threats to chemical facilities, as I warned about a year ago — “Plant Security Is Now Up in the Air.” In that column, I cited the increasing availability of lower-cost and more-capable drones that can carry payloads and cameras and the concerns their proliferation raise about protecting plant assets from attack and safeguarding intellectual property from theft. A more-recent CP article, “Watch Out for Wireless Network Attacks,” specifically focused on the possibility and ramification of drones disrupting a site’s wireless network.
Fortunately, I hardly was alone in raising an alarm about such unmanned aircraft.
For instance, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington, D.C., whose membership includes major U.S. chemical manufacturers, was vocal in calling for and supporting action by the U.S. government to limit drone flights near industrial sites. In February, it strongly applauded the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s vote to approve an amendment to restrict the unauthorized use of drones near chemical facilities and oil refineries:
“Today’s vote will help address a mounting security concern and help safeguard chemical facilities… The provisions carefully target the potential misuse of drones for illicit purposes... We strongly support the Committee’s action to include the amendment as part of the legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] and encourage Congress to follow suit.”
Well, Congress did follow suit. In a bipartisan effort, the House and Senate developed legislation — the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016” — this summer.
“This sound proposal directs FAA to tackle the very real threat posed by using drones for malicious acts without interfering with their growing use by the public for recreation and their use for commercial applications,” commented ACC at the time.
Congress passed the act in early July and President Obama signed it into law on July 15th.
It’s heartening that — despite the dysfunction in Washington — an important piece of legislation actually can get enacted.
Restrictions on drones only account for a small portion of what that act covers. However, the specific provisions certainly give chemical makers a useful tool.
In particular, the act directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish within 180 days a process to allow companies to petition the Administrator of the FAA to prohibit or restrict the operation of unmanned aircraft close to their sites. However, the act only applies to certain sites — including chemical facilities and oil refineries; energy production, transmission and distribution facilities; and amusement parks!
The FAA then must review the application within 90 days, taking into account homeland or national security, protection of people and property on the ground as well as aviation safety. If it approves the application, the FAA will outline the boundaries for unmanned aircraft operation near the facility and set any other limitations it determines to be appropriate.
Chemical makers certainly should prepare to submit applications expeditiously for their facilities that fall within the top tiers of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards.
Of course, while the legislation is a welcome step, restrictions really won’t deter people with unscrupulous or evil intentions from using drones against plants. So, our industry still must establish effective defensive measures against unmanned aircraft.
Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.