Pipeline theft is a serious global issue, and has been on the increase in recent years. Pipeline thefts once only limited to isolated areas are now common across Europe. The extent, severity, and risk of such theft operations are a major concern to the industry as well as the general public.
Poverty, corruption, anti-authoritarianism, or war have traditionally been blamed for pipeline theft. Weak authorities and light penalties have exacerbated the problem. In all, it has been easy to (collectively) dismiss, downplay, or hush up this dangerous issue.
Now pipeline operators face a new, far more sophisticated class of criminal and can no longer be complacent. These thieves are well organized. They work in multi-skilled teams, often incorporating insider elements. They plan well ahead, burying hoses and waiting for the vegetation or environment to recover before commencing extraction, minimizing the chances of detection. They also tap during transients, when it is harder to detect abnormal activity, or use repair windows to prepare for fresh attacks once production re-starts. They also drill minute holes and extract in small but prolonged amounts that are less likely to trigger ‘abnormal event’ alarms.
This all adds up to a formidable opponent.
As products are now being extracted at a very low rate, it is difficult for traditional leak detection systems to notice and distinguish, let alone accurately and swiftly locate, criminal activity.
This paper will demonstrate how different leak detection technologies have been adapted to detect thefts, facilitate rapid response, and secure accurate tapping point locations– which, in turn, is resulting in capture and, increasingly, prosecution.
Several real life theft examples will be used to illustrate how oil thefts are detected and located. The challenge of actually finding the tapping points will be addressed using a combination of different methods.