Russian hackers may have blown up a massive natural gas facility in Texas: Report

Micaela Burrow, DCNF

A Russian state-backed cybercrime group may be behind an explosion at a Quintana Island, Texas, natural gas plant and transfer point on June 8, Washington Examiner writer Tom Rogan reported Tuesday.

Would-be attackers escalated intelligence gathering efforts on Texas-based liquefied natural gas (LNG) company Freeport LNG near the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Rogan. Then, on June 8, the company suffered a major explosion at one of its liquefaction and transport sites that will disrupt the plant’s operations until late 2022, according to a press release.

Freeport attributed the explosion to excess pressure on a pipeline, causing it to rupture and release incendiary gas. The FBI is investigating whether the explosion occurred through a material failure, as Freeport claimed, or because of a deliberate attack on the facility’s industrial control systems, Rogan reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Experts told Rogan that the FBI investigation, failure of safety control systems to activate and peculiar geopolitical circumstances surrounding the event suggests the latter is more likely.

Freeport LNG declined to comment on the FBI’s involvement in the case and denied the possibility of a cyberattack.

“While our ongoing investigation continues, a cyberattack was ruled out as the cause within days of the incident,” Freeport LNG told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “After a thorough assessment of our network, our internal cyber detection systems have been confirmed to be have been functioning properly and do not indicate any manipulation or compromise of our security solutions.”

XENOTIME, a hacking group sponsored by Russia’s NSA-analogous agency, uses malware that specifically takes down safety systems before allowing hackers to access control networks, according to the FBI. Experts who spoke to the Examiner suspect XENOTIME may also be behind the Freeport explosion.

XENOTIME has targeted oil and gas facilities as well as U.S.-based electric facilities, according to Security Affairs.

The Quintana explosion is expected to reduce total U.S. LNG export capacity by 17% until the facility is repaired, according to an Energy Administration Agency report released Thursday. On June 17, Freeport declared a legal pause on European exports would last until at least September.

Most of Freeport’s LNG exports for the first half of 2022 went to Europe, according to the report. Moscow has majorly restricted LNG exports in recent weeks and forced many European countries to resort to less environmentally-friendly energy sources.

On top of that, the U.S. is contending with its own energy shortages and soaring gas prices.

Microsoft reported Wednesday that Russian cyberattacks against Western entities since the start of the War in Ukraine, though more frequent than initially reported, concentrated on espionage and data exfiltration rather than physical damage.

The FBI did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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