Crude oil remains the world's leading energy source. The value of the total annual production of the global oil industry in 2018 was around 2 trillion US dollars. A flourishing black market is not surprising. Fossil fuels worth around 133 billion US dollars are stolen every year . At peak prices, a cartel could earn 90,000 dollars by tapping into a Mexican product pipeline in just seven minutes. An estimated 660,000 cars in Morocco and Tunisia drive all year round on fuel smuggled from Algeria .
Pipeline systems often span sparsely populated remote regions as well as densely populated urban areas. Continuous monitoring of the right of way and rapid countermeasures are difficult. Illegal tapping and product theft are severe problems not only regarding economic aspects but also in terms of safety, integrity and the environmental impact of pipeline systems. We do already know that these problems do not exist in emerging markets only, but currently also in certain regions of Europe.
What is the current situation in Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia? What monitoring tools are on the market and which have proven themselves in practice? What measures should be taken to deal with the problem?
These questions were discussed with representatives from Petrobras-Transpetro, Shell Nigeria, BPA, ENI, Botas and OMV at the 14th Pipeline Technology Conference (ptc 2019) in Berlin as part of an illegal tapping focus. A total of 750 participants from 54 different countries took part in ptc 2019. 80 different pipeline operating companies were represented with delegations . "The discussion on the topic has shown that despite a wide variety of preconditions, the problem exists all over the world. The exchange with the other pipeline operators from Europe, Asia and Africa was very fruitful", said Melquicedec Mojica Martinez from the Colombian pipeline operator CENIT .
Particularly in key regions like Nigeria and Brazil product theft from pipelines via third-party illegal connection is a big issue and not likely to stop in the near term. In Shell Nigeria's pipeline network, around 11,000 barrels were lost every day to illegal tapping in 2018. Since 2012, a total of 1,160 illegal theft points have been removed . In addition to the technical measures, a particular focus here is on involving local communities in the right of way.
After illegal tapping was only a marginal topic in Europe until around 2010, the number of external interventions increased rapidly in the following years. In 2015 alone, there were about 150 incidents. As a result of these events, several measures were pushed forward in Europe within the framework of CONCAWE: Staff training and awareness raising for the topic, installation of more sensitive leak detection systems, targeted use of inline inspection tools in case of suspicion. The recent decline in the number of external interventions proves that the problem has been contained again but has not yet been solved . "It is clear that it is not possible to eliminate this threat and thus all operators need to remain vigilant and continually improve the management techniques employed", said Peter Davis, Director & General Manager of British Pipeline Agency Limited (BPA) and Chairman of the CONCAWE oil pipeline management group (OPMG).
In the afternoon, a closed ptc Round Table discussion was held exclusively for pipeline operators, in which parts of the large Russian delegation took part as well. "Also in this discussion the various prevention methods and techniques were discussed and there was a common agreement, that efforts need to be increased also in the future to prevent illegal tapping from an economical and an environmental point of view. One topic of the discussion was the involvement of police forces in the various countries where it seems to be obvious, that a strong support helps to prevent illegal activities on pipelines.", said Michael Cech, Head of Pipeline JV’s, Shipping & HSSE at OMV and Chairman of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Pipeline Theft of CONCAWE.
All abstracts and papers on illegal tapping are published for free in the ptc Pipeline Open Knowledge Base .
In the coming year, Illegal Tapping will again be a key topic at the 15th Pipeline Technology Conference from 30 Mar. - 2 Apr. 2020 in Berlin. The format of the ptc Round Table has proved itself and at ptc 2020 there will again be the opportunity for interested pipeline operators to exchange information on current key topics. The Call for Papers for ptc 2020 is open until 30 September 2019 .