Texas Official Stresses Spectrum Needs of Oil and Gas Companies

The chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas has written FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to ask the agency to reconsider its conclusion that the use of spectrum by oil and gas companies for SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems “primarily serve the business needs” of the companies rather than protect public safety.

Yesterday’s letter from David Porter referred to an order that the FCC released in September 2014 in which it addressed requests to approve the assignment of AMTS (automated maritime telecommunications system) licenses that are part of a pending hearing before an administrative law judge concerning the character qualifications of licensee Maritime Communications/Land Mobile LLC (MCLM) (TRDaily, Sept. 11, 2014).

In the order, the FCC removed from the proceeding an application to assign a license to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) for positive train control (PTC).

The FCC noted that critical infrastructure industry (CII) companies have argued “that they are similarly situated to SCRRA such that it would be ‘an unlawful abuse of discretion for the Commission to allow the railroad to extract itself from the hearing proceeding while not affording the same opportunity to electric utilities and oil and gas companies facing similar federal requirements and spectrum shortages.’ We recognize that the CII Companies are critical infrastructure industry entities under the Commission’s Rules.

“We acknowledge as well that important public benefits stem from the operation of, for example, SCADA systems by oil and gas companies and smart grid systems by electric cooperatives and other utilities,” the order added. “Although the CII Companies’ proposals to use the spectrum licenses for SCADA, smart grid and similar applications would be beneficial to the public, unlike PTC, those other services are not dedicated to communications to prevent human injury and property damage, but are also used for day-to-day facilities management and other purposes that primarily serve the business needs of the licensee.”

“We urge the Commission to recognize the critical role of SCADA systems in promoting public safety goals in the pipeline industry,” Mr. Porter said in his letter in WT docket 13-85 and EB docket 11-71. “SCADA systems use wireless frequencies to detect leaks, monitor and control flow, and perform other vital functions across the nation’s pipeline networks. Approximately two-thirds of the energy supply in the United States is transported through pipelines supported by SCADA systems.

“Our colleagues at the Pipeline [and] Hazardous Materials Safety Administration acknowledged the public safety benefits of SCADA when it implemented rules requiring each pipeline to operate and maintain a communication system necessary for safe operation of their systems,” Mr. Porter added. “These requirements make clear the primary purpose of SCADA systems is to prevent human injury and property damage – not to serve the underlying business needs of oil and gas companies.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com