The recent accident in Mexico is a source of great disappointment and sadness among all of us in the international pipeline community. The illegal tapping problem has been growing uncontrollably for the last 15 years throughout the world. Some countries recognize this, whereas others do not. The methodology used by illegal tappers varies considerably from sophisticated systems, which measure the fuel stolen and replace it with water, to a simple spike to allow the fuel under pressure to gush out like a geyser.
The Mexico case was probably caused by a lack of awareness of the dangers allied to extreme poverty. To break the pipe wall with a metal spike is the most unsafe methodology used to tap pipelines by criminals, because they are not concerned with the quality of the installation or safety. This method would never be utilized in the developed world.
In Mexico last weekend however, the criminals must have used a simple spike to perforate the pipe wall. This caused the geyser effect, establishing an atmosphere with gasoline fumes, which subsequently exploded. Before the explosion, the local population was collecting the fuel, which literally rained down, in saucepans, buckets, big cans or in some cases with trucks. Their behavior was like looters. In this case the poor population was clearly helping the bandits. There have been other cases of huge accidents in the world, where hundreds of people have died.
In Brazil, we are developing a Daisy Methodology. We have noticed that in several countries this methodology has been put into use to some extent. Each petal in our daisy represents a different approach, which, when taken together, help to resolve the problem. The petals may be classified into three separate groups: a) Security, Intelligence and Official/External Relationships b) Engineering-Technology, Operational Procedures, Risk Analysis and HSE matters, and c) Legal, Social and Communication Actions.
There is a weighting given to each petal in the daisy. Some of these are applicable in certain situations but not others. So, we must measure our efforts for each parameter, as we would use a control panel. An action that is good for France or the UK may not work in Spain, Brazil or Mexico. For example, a change of law may be necessary in one country but not necessarily in all. Social initiatives will work in some countries but are totally inapplicable in others.
My perception of this Mexico case is that the Government needs to:
1 - Instruct the population as to the potential dangers of pipelines;
2 - Change the mindset of the population from supporting the gangs to opposing them and supporting PEMEX;
3 - Invest heavily in productive social programs to discourage the collaboration with criminal cartels.
There are also several other appropriate action that can be taken.
It is the duty of the rest of us in the international pipeline community to help Mexico and all others resolve this problem. The Pipeline Technology Conference 2019 will take place in Berlin in March and all pipeline experts should be present, because a special panel on illegal tapping will be held.
Marcelino Guedes F. M. Gomes is Senior Pipeline Engineer at Petrobras, Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).