Vanderbilt’s Port Resilience Study Showed Advantages Of Barged Gasoline

An academic study of port resilience proved unexpectedly relevant when a real-life pipeline hacking took place, closely matching one of the study’s scenarios. 

Craig Philip is well-known to the inland community from his many roles, from former CEO of Ingram Barge to his service on — and often leadership of — just about every single group, committee or organization involved in waterways advocacy. With a Ph.D. from MIT, Philip wanted to continue to serve the industry in his “retirement.” He now serves as research professor of civil and environmental engineering, and director of the Vanderbilt [University] Center for Transportation and Operational Resiliency. 

At the recent Waterways Symposium held in St. Louis, Mo., Philip told how his group was approached by the Department of Homeland Security for help designing a Port Resilience Guide to be used as a template to help ports prepare for a variety of emergency scenarios. “Our purpose was to show Homeland Security how to do a port resilience project, rather than actually doing it,” he said. Philip said Homeland Security was especially interested in energy security.

The process involved choosing a particular port area and showing how such a guide would work. The area his group chose was the Cumberland/Tennessee River area with its multitude of inland ports. His team had lots of engagement with officials in Chattanooga, Tenn. One of the key questions the team set itself to answer was, “Can we identify the ports/docks/terminals that can transfer cargoes to or from other modes?”

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Philip’s team considered three scenarios:

1) A “multimodal impact event” involving the Colonial Pipeline spur to Tennessee. The Colonial Pipeline, the largest pipeline in the U.S., swings through the Southeast states and supplies much of the East Coast’s fuel. 

2) A lock outage at Cheatham;

3) An earthquake. 

It was pure coincidence, Philip said, when the Colonial Pipeline was actually targeted by anonymous hackers for a ransomware attack in May that shut it down and sent gas prices soaring.  It was later determined that a leaked password was sold on the dark web to hackers. 

Philip noted that consumers used a crowd-sourced app called Gas Buddy to track gas prices in real time. He said apps like this could prove useful in tracking the impacts of various events. In fact, there was a useful correlation between the Gas Buddy lower gas prices and those areas that had access to waterborne gas transportation. “The [gasoline] supply disruption was much lower in Nashville than in other markets” due to the availability of barged petroleum products, he said. 

The resilience improvements suggested by his group’s study included terminal enhancement in Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tenn.