While there has been a sustained effort to protect the energy industry, particularly nuclear facilities, from terrorist attack, in the run-up to the Global Environmental Conference in Copenhagen later this year, another threat is emerging – environmental protesters.
Greenpeace alone has a solid record lately of anti-whaling and related activities, but their environmental activities against power stations globally have been less prevalent in the last decade. This is rapidly changing. During the G8 Summit in Italy in June, Greenpeace occupied four coal-fired power stations and a coal ship in Italy and draped a banner over Mt Rushmore. At the G20, they conducted a banner drop from a bridge in Pittsburgh. They’ve conducted effective protests at Tar Sands Oil Extraction facilities in Alberta, Canada and banner drops at Niagara Falls. Most recently, they managed to infiltrate the UK Houses of Parliament, gain access to the roofs and welcome Members of Parliament back to work with banners draped around the building.
Greenpeace is joined by other groups, including Camp for Climate Justice, which organized the attempts to over-run and shut down the Ratcliffe-On-Soar power station and the occupation of Didcot this week (both in the UK).
Recent targeting has been broad; trains and ships delivering fuel to coal-fired power stations have been targeted, as have the offices of energy firms, their suppliers and associated businesses. During the Climate Camp in August, the offices of a PR firm that works for E.On was occupied.
The threat to energy is primarily financial and operational, and like all protesters, environmentalists are asymmetric in their approach. They find either targets of high emotional impact or photogenic targets likely to be regarded as low-threat for terrorist activity, and therefore, security that is more easily penetrated. While some facilities may have lower security standards, the financial ramification of being out of commission for a few days is nevertheless significant.
It doesn’t take much to disrupt an energy facility. Tactics such as hanging personnel from structures, creating obstruction and other activities pose risks to energy facilities. Although there has been an increase of non-confrontational tactics in some instances (e.g., at the Tar Sands, the protest was conducted, positive media achieved and everyone gone by the time the police arrived), in other locations, they have been prepared to stay in place for days.
At this time, energy firms should be reviewing their procedures and tactics for dealing with protesters and the tactics they will likely use.
Sam Rosenfeld is the Chairman of the Densus Group; the Densus Threat Centre produces the Demonstration Report and Threat Analysis, a bi-weekly report of recent activities that identifies trends and makes recommendations about planned activities and likely threats. Details can be obtained at www.densusgroup.com, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.