Saboteurs attacked three separate gas lines belonging to Black Hills Energy, leaving around 3,500 customers without heat as temperatures plummeted to 2 degrees. The company warns that restoring gas service to each home could take days.
Police discovered the words “Earth First!” scrawled over piping near Aspen at one of three gas lines that had been shut down by vandals, authorities revealed. Thousands of residents were left without power after three separate gas lines were shut down belonging to Black Hills Energy, one in Aspen and two in Pitkin County, ABC reported.
The attacks at the separate facilities appeared to be a coordinated effort, police said. The FBI and its critical infrastructure protection unit is assisting local authorities in the criminal investigation, as authorities in Aspen say the vandalism appears to be an “intentional attack” on gas service lines in Aspen Colorado.
Police are still determining whether the self-described “radical environmental group” Earth First was involved or whether someone wrote the words on the piping to direct the blame at the green group.
One thing hampering the investigators is that none of the locations had security cameras. Investigators are instead looking at footprints in the snow.
The FBI established a critical infrastructure protection unit to protect a number of vital systems back in 2002. Called the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), it also coordinates with the Department of Homeland Security. The purpose behind the NIPC is “coordinating the Federal Government’s response to an incident, mitigating attacks, investigating threats and monitoring reconstitution efforts.”
It protects, among other things, “telecommunications, energy, banking and finance, transportation, water systems and emergency services, both governmental and private.” Internet networks are one of the most at risk, and both the public and companies are urged to invest in cloud data security programs to protect their crucial data.
“They tampered with flow lines,” Aspen assistant police chief Bill Linn said. “They turned off gas lines.”
Linn says he believes whoever sabotaged the system would have to be familiar with the gas system in order to shut down the lines.
In the aftermath, as temperatures plummeted down to 2 degrees, the authorities scrambled to distribute thousands of space heaters to residents while Black Hills Energy continued working Tuesday to restore the gas, the New York Post reported.
Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper, who also lost heat to her home, likened the intentional sabotage to terrorism.
“It’s almost, to me, an act of terrorism,” Clapper said. “It’s trying to destroy a mountain community at the height of the holiday season. This wasn’t a national gas glitch. This was a purposeful act. Someone is looking to make a statement of some kind.”
Restoring gas to all of the customers isn’t as simple as turning the valves back on. For safety, the restoration process requires that crews go to each affected home’s gas meter to manually turn them off and relight the pilot lights.
Officials are continuing to work on restoring gas service but are unclear how long it will take to restore service to all 3500 customers.