My previous blog produced uncommon interest, some from old friends and some from persons newly engaged in struggling to preserve assets. One had experience with military operations in Iraq. They understood that theft is not just benign self-interest but may be conducted with the intent of deliberate harm.
Sometimes such operations disclose information about operator capabilities and requirements. Some deliberately embarrass the entities dedicated to preventing such incursions. Perhaps the message is that petroleum is valuable in many contexts and worthy of active care. In some locations and situations our confidence that the pipe we buried last year is still doing just what we intended may be unrealistically naïve.
Possibly the world leader in organized anti-theft effort is Pemex. Monitoring has been in-place on some of its systems for well over a decade and the results have been amazing. Initially some systems were looked at more as free distribution points where “the people’s petroleum” was delivered. Of course, that was never quite the intent, and there are many stories. This year, some estimates put Pemex losses to theft at over USD$1.5 billion. Applying its highly successful aggressive monitoring and interdiction program could, based on actual experience, eliminate most or even all of those losses.
The earliest anti-theft efforts began on lines known to be heavily attacked. Monitoring could detect a tap and its location within minutes. Special pre-positioned response units would be notified and would deploy into tactical positions. Usually the theft operation’s people and equipment could be apprehended. After a few such interdictions word got out. Theft from targeted areas declined to zero. Unfortunately, theft continued unabated in unmonitored areas. The prospect of getting caught diminished enthusiasm, but actual interdiction seemed necessary to completely discourage these operations.In some countries, enabled and exacerbated by corruption or government dysfunction, theft seems to have become normal. It can be hard to curtail these situations once they are firmly started. The spread of corruption seems systemic and the impact severe, not just from damages to the facilities and theft of the product of the producers, but also to the people and businesses that rely on normal access to these products. The fact the petroleum is stolen does not make it free to users – in fact the incursions can produce scarcity, increasing user-level cost.
In these matters, automation helps. Theft can, with appropriate effort, be curtailed or limited. Rational economic outcomes restore some sense of markets and order which tends to normalize and enhance business in the surrounding communities. The power and wealth associated with these activities can be limited or eliminated by fast and decisive action. Even sophisticated theft mechanisms can be identified by appropriate monitoring methods and equipment. Technology moves the endeavor from a conflict of wills to the effective use of resources.
In one country, a pipeline that had been a substantial theft target was estimated to have perhaps 16 active theft taps at any given moment. Losses were in the many thousands of dollars per hour. A monitoring system was deployed, resulting in more than 20 apprehensions over the first few days. Theft attempts continued, but there were far fewer of them. Over a couple of months, theft on the entire pipeline was brought to, and maintained at, zero. Essentially, getting caught stealing oil involved sufficient consequences to concern these thieves, and the chance of getting caught was perceived to be very high. Together, these issues made theft an unattractively expensive activity.
So, technology, along with a determined and ethical attitude, can control these things. It isn’t even all that hard once it is productively organized and initiated. Safety is enhanced. Profitability is enhanced, security along the pipeline is enhanced, and business strength in the region improves – all good things for a successful and organized society.
Uncontrolled losses from pipelines – be it from accidents, equipment failures, or theft – is not a benign irritation. It can dramatically affect profitable operations and the sustained interest of investors. It can damage livestock and crops. It can initiate unimaginably intense fires and explosions that destroy lives, homes, and businesses along the pipeline. Surrounding businesses, such as fishing and agriculture, can be profoundly affected. Sometimes the damage is truly accidental, sometimes it is the result of poor design or changing operating conditions. Sometimes it results from inadequate maintenance practices such as corrosion control. In any case, the operator’s future may be improved or enhanced by responsible operation and aggressive mitigation. The public may be willing to excuse accidents but will often want to punish whatever they perceive as negligence.
Want to read all the blogs in this series? Click these links to read the posts:
How to Optimize Pipeline Leak Detection: Focus on Design, Equipment and Insightful Operating Practices
What You Can Learn About Pipeline Leaks From Government Statistics
Is Theft the New Frontier for Process Control Equipment?
What Is the Impact of Theft, Accidents, and Natural Losses From Pipelines?
Can Risk Analysis Really Be Reduced to a Simple Procedure?
Do Government Pipeline Regulations Improve Safety?
What Are the Performance Measures for Pipeline Leak Detection?