As fierce pipeline attacks continue to plague Nigeria, investment into monitoring tools that allow operators to react to impending incidents quickly and efficiently can no longer be optional

The Niger Delta Avengers have been causing chaos in Nigeria since the beginning of the year, launching multiple attacks on oil-producing facilities. At the end of May, militants blew up strategic oil and gas pipelines belonging to Shell and Agip. This followed similar attacks in the same week in southern Nigeria, targeting U.S. oil major, Chevron. 

These attacks are having devastating consequences on Nigeria’s economy, with oil production plunging from a projected 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to 1.4 million bpd. This precipitated Nigeria losing its status as Africa’s biggest oil producer to Angola in March earlier this year. Meanwhile, security challenges have also caused widespread oil pollution, which has destroyed the livelihoods of Nigeria’s fishing and farming communities. 

Security concerns have also intensified due to the aging and poor construction of much of the infrastructure in Nigeria – a significant proportion of which has been in place for more than 30 years. Now the Nigerian government has recognised that more needs to be done. This was highlighted by the President of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association, Francis Olabode-Johnson, who recently commented: “I want the government and the multinational oil companies to use modern technologies in checking pipelines vandalism and crude oil theft.” 

In recent years Nigeria has relied on deploying thousands of soldiers to defend oil installations and pipelines, but the effectiveness of this strategy is questionable as there remain inherent ‘gaps’ in the coverage that on-the-ground personnel can provide. Pipelines cover vast expanses of land and it is impractical to expect security personnel to physically walk the length of the pipeline or to be able to monitor the entire length of a pipeline at all times. However, there are now new technologies that can fill these gaps and provide extended capabilities to better direct physical security personnel.

One such technology is LivePIPE®, which harnesses Distributed Acoustic Sensor (DAS) technology and a pipeline’s fibre optic cables to provide operators with continuous and real-time visibility of a whole pipeline.

Operators in countries where pipeline attacks are widespread need technologies that are not only accurate, but also fundamentally simple in operation. They need to enable reliable and rapid decisions to be made in response to potential threats.

Central to this challenge is weeding out false alarms and ensuring that operators are only alerted to incidents where there is a high degree of certainty that a genuine threat is taking place. There is a balance to be struck between a system that is too senstive (too many alerts can of course be costly in terms of time and effort), and one which is not sensitive enough that could allow a major threat to slip through the net.

To address this challenge LivePIPE® uses a non-linear scoring system to assess ‘incidents’ that are captured in the acoustic data on a pipeline. Rather than giving security staff large quantities of data to analyse, LivePIPE® deciphers this information and ‘builds’ very high confidence alarms so that operators can be sure that a threat is genuine. Delivering these high confidence alarms via a simple user interface also makes it easy for soldiers or guards to pinpoint the exact location of the threat and disrupt any potential criminal activity at the earliest stage.

Pipeline vandalism is a serious issue especially in a country like Nigeria where oil production is a major contributor to the economy. While existing surveillance strategies and technologies are useful tools, they still remain limited in their efficacy. By implementing LivePIPE® with other monitoring technologies as part of a holistic system, countries prone to third party intrusion attacks can achieve a real step change in terms of pipeline security.