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HOW SAFE IS SAFE?
American Chemistry Council grapples with terrorism and site security issues
With its facilities considered likely targets, the chemical industry has been drawn directly into issues surrounding potential terrorist attacks. A sense of urgency was evident at the American Chemistry Council (ACC) annual meeting last week in Houston where the events of Sept. 11 quickly overshadowed what was to have been an agenda focused on energy policy and the economy.
A late-day town hall meeting on Oct. 29, closed to the press, allowed more than 200 executives to air concerns, share practices, and discuss needed actions. ACC President Frederick L. Webber said he decided to close the session to make members more comfortable in opening up on the issues.
PHOTO BY PETER CUTTS
"We have to strike a balance between the public's right to know and the right to be secure," Webber explained in a briefing afterward. "Security takes priority."
Companies have been taking all steps feasible to prepare for possible attacks, he said, "but we don't know where, when, or how something might happen. You can only go so far before running out of ideas." For example, he asked, "How do we prepare for an air attack?"
A recent security test by Sterling Chemicals shows how difficult it is to secure a large petrochemical plant. Despite increased security measures, local scuba-clad law officers, under the direction of consultants hired by the company, succeeded in infiltrating its Texas City, Texas, plant from adjacent Galveston Bay.
Companies said that they have been upping site security, conducting more background checks, monitoring all interactions with their plants, and altering mail-handling procedures. Webber said that there were encouraging stories about more interactions between plants and their local communities.
A significant, although still unresolved, worry is the industry's access to liability and catastrophe insurance. Some companies reported that insurers, which want the government to help underwrite costs, are warning that premiums could rise substantially, or coverage be withdrawn altogether. Webber said it is too early to gauge the extent of the problem; most policies will renew around the start of 2002.
Speakers scheduled to present energy topics shifted their focus to the links between energy, security, government policy, and price volatility. "The supply-and-demand balance is so tight that any event--weather, outages, pricing, regulations, and other instabilities--will trigger an imbalance and create volatile swings" in the natural gas market, Chuck Watson, CEO of energy marketer Dynegy, told the meeting.
A U.S. energy policy is crucial, concluded both Watson and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). The Sept. 11 attacks have "forced reality upon us," Hagel noted. "Energy independence is crucial to national security and, along with trade, a key component of our approach to the current situation." He encouraged industry executives to take clear stands in helping shape policy.
|ANNUAL MEETING HIGHLIGHTS
- Voted unanimously to merge with the American Plastics Council.
- Recognized four companies with Responsible Care leadership awards.
- Nominated new board members, including new Chairman Thomas E. Reilly Jr.
- Emphasized goals for chemical testing, research, and management programs.
- Outlined a $103.5 million budget for fiscal-year 2002.
- Heard from an environmental policy adviser about prospects for sustainable development.
ACC has been working with state and federal agencies to understand potential threats and provide information. Robert Gates, former director of the CIA, encouraged companies to be proactive. Gates and Webber both emphasized that there's much uncertainty because the challenges being faced are new to everyone.
ACC also has joined a coalition of 15 trade associations that are sharing information and guidelines. ACC recently published site security guidelines (C&EN, Oct. 29, page 13) and anticipates soon releasing guidelines covering chemical distribution and transportation. The idea, one ACC staffer said, is "to get word out, up and down the supply chain."
To ensure that it can continue to operate effectively, both Gates and Webber stressed the chemical industry's need to communicate its importance in supplying materials, products, and services to other industries, the government, and the public.
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