Environment & Energy Report

Cybersecurity a Focus for McCurdy as Natural Gas Group’s CEO

Feb. 28, 2019, 11:00 AM

Dave McCurdy first dealt with cybersecurity as head of the House Intelligence Committee, then continued working on it as the leader of trade groups for electronics, cars, and natural gas.

As he steps down Feb. 28 as CEO of the American Gas Association, addressing the threat is one of his proudest accomplishments.

“The threat is real and, if anything, increasing,” McCurdy wrote in a final letter to the more than 200 AGA member companies. “Adversary nation-state capabilities exist that match U.S. capabilities. This is not a time to rest on past efforts, but a time to continue to focus and build.”

Strengthening the natural gas industry’s posture on cybersecurity threats is one of McCurdy’s biggest accomplishments, gas industry and Department of Homeland Security leaders agreed.

“There’s no doubt that Dave has been a champion for this industry in being a proactive liaison between his members and the government,” Karen Harbert, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute and McCurdy’s successor as CEO.

Outsiders gave McCurdy a positive assessment as well.

“Natural gas is such a huge portion of the national economy now, and I think McCurdy did as well as he could under the circumstances that he had at that time,” said Ronald Marks, a former CIA official and member of the council of executives for Auburn University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.

Millions of Intrusions

The utility sector faces millions of attempted cyberintrusions a day, and while a cyberattack hasn’t successfully shut down the U.S. power grid, many analysts agree it is likely just a matter of time.

The persistence of that threat was evident last spring, when a cyberattack on a shared data network forced four natural gas pipeline operators to temporarily shut down computer communications with their customers.

The companies said no gas service was interrupted and the shutdown of customer transactions was done as a precaution.

“Our team at AGA, the industry, everyone is stepping up on this, and I think the sense of urgency has increased,” McCurdy told Bloomberg Environment as he prepared to leave the trade association. “It’s a constantly evolving, persistent threat and we are a target.”

‘Analog to Digital’

McCurdy chaired the House Intelligence Committee during part of his 14 years as a Democratic House member representing Oklahoma’s 4th District. He later served as CEO of the Electronic Industries Alliance and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

“I was involved in the dawn of this technology from analog to digital, both in Congress and the private sector, electronics sector, autos, and now here,” McCurdy said.

Gas company executives who worked closely with McCurdy said he stressed the importance of being proactive on cybersecuriry threats, from leading on setting industrywide standards to setting up a peer-review program so companies could learn from one another.

He also has urged Congress to increase funding for the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees pipeline security.

“Dave would not let us just sit there,” said Pierce Norton, president and CEO of Oklahoma-based ONE Gas, one of the U.S. largest natural gas utilities, who chaired AGA’s board in 2017.

Bob Kolasky, head of the Homeland Security Department’s National Risk Management Center, also said McCurdy elevated the importance of risk information sharing between industry and government.

“There’s been a paradigm shift in the energy industry over the last half-dozen years about the fact that senior executives are now investing in the importance of taking cybersecurity seriously, and I think Dave gets a good deal of credit for that,” Kolasky said.

McCurdy said one of his biggest cyber accomplishments was orchestrating a meeting of the Oil and Natural Gas Sector Coordinating Council at AGA headquarters in October 2018, which includes top leaders from the gas industry, Homeland Security, TSA and the Energy Department, to launch a pipeline cybersecurity initiative.

Jim Torgerson, CEO of Connecticut-based Avangrid and current chair of AGA’s board, said, “We needed a leader who understood what the industry was facing, and his being able to work with the government in many areas just proved to be great asset.”

Still Top Issue

McCurdy said he won’t be leaving the energy sector altogether and will continue to serve on several energy- and defense-related boards, including the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

But, he said the timing of his exit after the AGA held its 100th anniversary in 2018 felt appropriate. He said he feels confident leaving it in the hands of Harbert, who will be AGA’s first female CEO starting April 1.

Harbert said she also will make cyber a top issue.

“The perpetrators of cyber, whether it be nation-states or individual hackers, their techniques will continue to evolve in the same way the industry itself has to evolve so that it is able to address these threats in real time,” she said.

Going forward, Harbert will have her work cut out for her.

“Cybersecurity will be an even larger job under her tenure,” said Chris Bronk, a University of Houston professor of computer and information systems and associate director of the Center for Information Security Research and Education. “It will involve even more significant government participation.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rkern@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com

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