Theft from pipelines and leaks are costly for both pipeline operators and the environment. According to Havocscope Black Market, theft from pipelines amounts to about $37.23 billion globally a year[i] and in the US nearly 9 million gallons of crude oil have leaked from pipelines since 2010.[ii] Apart from criminal thefts, leakages stem primarily from pipeline manufacturing faults and natural events such as landslips and earthquakes.
Criminal theft and damage
In the Middle East, terrorists have attacked the gas pipelines linking Egypt with Israel[iii] and Jordan.[iv] In some countries, in particular, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria, stealing oil and gas from pipelines is all too common. For example, Nigeria is the worst affected with around 100,000 barrels a day lost by theft from pipelines , closely followed by Mexico where Pemex, the state owned oil company lost 6.9 million barrels of oil, at a cost of $580 million to theft in 2015.[v] Losses from theft in Indonesia are much lower, but not insignificant. See Table 1. Theft from pipelines not only affects pipeline owners but also local communities and reduces government revenues. For instance, theft of fuel in Mexico is costing the government a $1 billion dollars a year in lost revenue.
There are also frequent and unintentional everyday pipeline breaches, which are the responsibility of pipeline owners, stemming from corrosion, material and welding failures, incorrect operation and damage from excavation and installation. Leaks can also be due to damage caused by nearby construction, manufacturing failures and natural forces, in particular, landslides. Figure 1 provides a profile of the range of pipeline failures that occurred in Canada over a 4- year period.[ix]
External interference of pipeline performance
Weakening of pipes, by unintentional excavation damage by third parties, is a significant cause of subsequent pipeline accidents. [x] A recent case in point is the spillage of 200,000 litres of oil condensate, near Edmonton in Alberta Canada.[xi] Offshore, subsea pipelines are most vulnerable to damage caused by ship’s anchors and fishing nets. For example, an interruption of gas supplies from the South China Seas offshore Yacheng gas field to Hong Kong was attributed to damage by an anchor.[xii]Natural threats to safe pipeline operation include earthquakes, landslides and caprock fracturing which could cause damage to natural gas storage facilities and leaks of natural gas.[xiii] California,[xiv] with its extensive pipeline network, linking 14 underground storage facilities and 350 active wells is especially vulnerable to damage from the ongoing draught and earth tremors.A relatively new and potentially serious threat to infrastructure, including pipelines, arises from hacking by cybercriminals and possibly even by hostile government agencies. In recent years, there have been numerous reports of hacking aimed at the energy sector. [xv] For instance, a hacker could create a systems malfunction, which tells the monitoring system that the flow of oil and gas has stopped along a pipe, which therefore prompts the automated system to begin pumping, which if not remedied in time could cause a pressure blast. Bloomberg, the financial news channel, reported that Russian hackers interfered with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) gas pipeline resulting in an explosion.[xvi] Fear of disruption and even pipe explosions from hacking activities is addressed in a recent MIT report, Keeping America Safe: Towards More Secure Networks for Critical Sectors.[xvii]
Efforts to enhance pipeline security
In the light of pipeline’s vulnerabilities and all too frequent losses, companies like Enbridge, National Grid and TransCanada, are taking several approaches to enhance pipeline security and safety. These include adoption of risk management programs, improvement in data acquisition, leak detection and inline inspection.
Risk management- for prevention
Increasingly, pipeline managers employ risk-management programs to find, locate and prioritize faults in order to pro-actively prevent failures. In fact, pipeline operators in the UK and France, [xviii]are known to have used risk analysis for years to assess the need for pipeline diversions, proximity infringements and uprating. These programs require detailed reviews of operations and maintenance and can estimate the probability and consequences of different potential failures.[xix]
Data acquisition-for monitoring performance
Increasingly, pipeline companies are using supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems to remotely control and monitor their pipes and simultaneously reduce costs. Pipeline controllers can use powerful data-analysis software tools to analyse historical SCADA data to examine a pipe’s power consumption, equipment performance, maintenance scheduling, pressure cycling and product quality. The results can be used to benchmark performance over time and against peers. The application of SCADA systems and data analysis reveals patterns of “ best “ operation and can, be used to lift performance by all pipeline operators.
Detecting a pipeline leak early is vital for both protecting a company’s bottom line and its reputation amongst the public. Today, remote ‘connected’ sensors monitor pipe flows, volumes, pressures, temperature and valve status and alert operators of a potential and actual leak and these systems are becoming smarter.
Increasingly, where possible, pipeline companies are sending probes or “pigs” down their pipelines a process known as “pigging.”[xx] Introduced in the 1990s, such probes have become increasingly sophisticated. They are now able to detect narrow axial external corrosion, cracks, stress corrosion cracking, and other formerly indistinguishable pipeline defects. And, in conjunction with contemporary geometry inspection tools, the location and severity of any pipeline dents, buckles, wrinkles, and bending strain can not only be accurately measured but also “pictured” via inertial navigation and sonar calliper measurements. Regular “pigging” could therefore severely dent the prospect of future leakages.
With the aid of new technologies, pipeline operators are getting better at preventing leaks and managing their pipelines. They now need to arm themselves with effective measures against hacking.
— By Nicholas Newman, Energy Writer
[i] http://www.havocscope.com/tag/oil-theft/[ii] http://uk.businessinsider.com/how-much-oil-spills-from-pipelines-us-america-natural-gas-2016-12?r=US&IR=T[iii] http://www.upstreamonline.com/live/1123091/egypt-israel-gas-pipeline-attacked[iv] http://www.timesofisrael.com/militants-sabotage-egypt-jordan-gas-pipeline-in-sinai/[v] https://pgjonline.com/2016/08/30/pemex-security-officers-caught-red-handed-at-fuel-pipeline/[vi] http://www.havocscope.com/tag/oil-theft/[vii] https://cleantechnica.com/2017/05/14/mexicos-pemex-losing-27000-barrels-gasoline-diesel-day-due-theft-criminal-gangs/[viii] http://www.havocscope.com/tag/oil-theft/[ix] http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/cepa-2016-safety-report-1.3654640[x] http://nv.pipeline-awareness.com/excavators&view=standard/[xi] http://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/02/20/news/transcanada-conducting-internal-probe-after-crew-damaged-enbridge-pipeline-leaked[xii] http://www.statsgroup.com/news/post.php?s=2016-09-28-anchor-damage-repair-restores-hong-kong-gas-link[xiii] http://newscenter.lbl.gov/2017/06/19/keeping-californias-natural-gas-system-safe/[xiv] http://www.energy.ca.gov/maps/infrastructure/naturalgas_pipelines_storage.html[xv] http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/As-cyberattacks-become-more-sophisticated-energy-10973429.php[xvi] http://www.robertmlee.org/closing-the-case-on-the-reported-2008-russian-cyber-attack-on-the-btc-pipeline/[xvii] https://internetpolicy.mit.edu/reports/Report-IPRI-CIS-CriticalInfrastructure-2017-Brenner.pdf[xviii] http://www.palisade.com/cases/NationalGridUK.asp[xix] http://www.ogj.com/articles/print/volume-98/issue-38/special-report/recent-pipeline-technologies-improve-efficiency-enhance-integrity.html[xx] https://pgjonline.com/2016/10/19/regulation-cost-effectiveness-driving-pipeline-cleaning/