Industrial Pipeline Security Can Prevent Billions of Dollars of Theft

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Each day, Nigeria loses about 150,000 barrels of oil due to illegal tapping. Per month, that equates to about $1.5 billion in losses that can be prevented through pipeline third party intrusion and leak detection technology. Such losses occur worldwide.

In Mexico, petroleum theft is a real problem. Pemex data shows that in 2020 there were almost 9,000 illegal, petroleum line taps. There, it’s estimated that more than 58,000 barrels of oil are lost per day due to illegal tapping. While theft decreased in previous years, there has been an uptick since 2020, and data suggest that there was a 30% increase in illegal taps between 2020 and 2022. Apart from the financial loss of products, such theft adds to environmental damage and risks to local communities.

Criminal attacks occur on critical infrastructure in electrical segments as well.

In 2022, there was an attack on a power substation in North Carolina which disabled distribution of power to 45,000 customers. Similarly, six different sites in Oregon and Washington were damaged due to illegal activities on power substations, which convert high-voltage electricity to lower voltages for use by businesses and residences.

In response to the growing number of pipeline thefts, federal regulations are requiring that each pipeline (old and new) must have a system for detecting leaks by October 2024. Given Schneider Electric’s commitment to insights within integrated pipeline management, solutions exist today that provide quick leak detection times for a wide range of liquid and gas pipelines for green and brown field projects.

Three focus areas for improving pipeline security

Pipeline security in the chemical and energy industry provides a great deal of return over many years, if not decades. Investing in leak detection and third-party intrusion (TPI) solutions build accuracy and confidence, as well as safety, in any pipeline operation. That success is developed around several key focus areas:

  1. Technology: Data is key in preventing any operational downtime. With the growing number of thefts, it’s imperative that organizations strive to ensure the availability of trusted, precise, actionable, and complete data.
  2. People: Securing pipeline infrastructures means creating an employee buy-in, pushing for safety and a commitment towards sustainability. Operators and business partners should ensure that data analytics and security align with your business objectives. Collaboration, and vision from the top down, change organizational culture for the better.
  3. Processes: Emphasize the development of performance measurement capabilities. As regulations make leak detection in all pipelines a requirement, it’s important to create processes for information management and innovate processes through the actionable insights that leak detection offers.

These focus areas will improve pipeline infrastructures and help prevent the detrimental impact, or loss of life, that a burst pipeline can cause.

To increase security and efficiency, Schneider Electric partnered with Prisma Photonics for next-level pipeline monitoring, which can handle a wide range of situations.

Preventing pipeline theft with fiber-optic sensing

Vandalism, theft, and other criminal activities continue to impact critical. For instance, Columbian drug gangs are tapping pipelines for crude oil to support illegal trades. According to pipeline operator Cenit Energy Limited, theft reached a six-year high in 2021.

Activity like this can be mitigated. PrismaFlow™ is a leak detection system that pinpoints leak detection within a 10-meter area of the pipe. By using fiberoptic-sensing technology, which is incorporated into an optical communication cable running through the pipeline, leak detection sensitivity goes down to 0.025%. It also can detect manual digging and mechanical excavation, which happen in most third-party intrusion and illegal tapping attempts.

Technology like Hyper-Scan Fiber Sensing™ also allows for conditions of the leak or disruption to be analyzed. That way operators will know whether the alarm was caused by vandalism, illegal tapping, a leak, manual digging, or other disturbances.

Most companies running critical infrastructure across vast distances rely on increased patrols and security, be it a team traveling by automobile, aerial inspection by drone or helicopter. Such continued inspections raise overhead costs. But installing fiberoptic cable around this critical infrastructure can provide the needed security to alert infrastructure owners, within minutes, when pipelines are being tapped, an excavator entered a prohibited area, or the infrastructure has been damaged.

Pipeline leak detection increases sustainability

Securing pipeline infrastructures also helps reduce emissions and increases operational efficiency. One instance that really sticks out is the Kalamazoo River oil spill in Michigan. The massive spill in 2010 released a million gallons of crude oil, contaminating 30 miles of river and damaging the nearby ecology.

Leak detection through fiberoptic sensing could’ve reduced, if not prevented, the amount of detriment this incident caused. PrismaFlow is so effective that one fiberoptic strand can pinpoint leak accuracy in up to 200 kilometers of pipeline. Such detection leads to more autonomous operations and environmental sustainability.

Learn more about Schneider’s partnership with Prisma Photonics and how PrismaFlow increases pipeline security.

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