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Fotech supplies world-leading monitoring and security technology to some of the most sensitive areas on the planet. Turn on the news these days and you’re likely to hear how societies worldwide are seeing a marked upturn in extremist activity, political uncertainty, and violence due to military interventions and economic instability.

As a result of this regrettable trend, assets such as pipelines, cables, transportation routes and physical perimeters are under constant threat from sabotage and theft. With criminals adopting increasingly sophisticated methods of attack, these issues are causing significant economic damage and safety concerns for operators and governments around the world.

Pipelines are particularly vulnerable to the escalating volume and complexity of security threats. Vast in length, pipelines traverse isolated and remote regions in some of the most politically unstable areas of the world. With over 3 million kilometres of pipeline worldwide, it is a colossal task to proactively monitor and respond to potential sabotage and criminal damage.

Problematic pipelines

In particular, the Middle East is home to some of the most remote pipelines globally – located in the heart of extremely inhospitable deserts. This region has a high degree of instability, both politically and militarily. A complicated web of overlapping political threats resulting from the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, increasingly muscular foreign policy in Iran, tensions with Israel, and the Qatar diplomatic crisis all contribute to the charged atmosphere.

Unprotected pipelines are an easy target for dissidents or state actors who wish to cause disruption to their regional rivals. We’ve seen pipelines such as the ‘East-West’, that transports five million barrels of crude oil day to day to the Red Sea and other locations around the world, specifically targeted in attacks by rebels in the region.

But problems with pipeline protection are not unique to the Middle East. Mexico has over 35,000km of pipelines, and in recent years hundreds – if not thousands – of illegal taps have been used by organised criminal gangs to commit widespread theft. It’s been estimated that in Mexico, illegal taps are capable of siphoning off 150,000 barrels of product from pipelines every day, a burgeoning crisis costing the Mexican economy an estimated $3 billion every year.

The fact that fuel thieves have grown so prolific, and their siphoning methods so sophisticated, has created a backlash from the Mexican government. However, the closure of key pipelines earlier this year caused widespread consumer panic.

Unprecedented attacks like these routinely cause flux in global oil prices, affecting the market substantially for producers and consumers alike. However, even though threats to pipelines have been a problem for decades, little has been done to address the issue.

The key to effective protection lies in introducing a system that can detect and pinpoint the location of these threats, especially vital in remote areas, and also inform authorities of the nature of the attacks. This will help better direct security responses – preventing incidents becoming full-blown crises and protecting revenues.

Distributed Acoustic Sensing 

Fotech’s ‘Distributed Acoustic Sensing’ technology provides a tailor-made solution for protecting pipelines.

DAS works by converting fibre optic cables, which run alongside a pipeline, into an ecosystem of highly-sensitive, individual vibrational sensors. By harnessing our cutting-edge photonics, advanced artificial intelligence and edge computing systems, DAS can successfully detect, classify and inform on range of events and activities, all in real time. We can identify, with clarity and confidence, the different types of disturbances that might impact a pipeline and provide operatives with specific alarms to accelerate the decision-making and response process.

The insights and alerts that DAS provides can be monitored from a central control facility, enabling a controlled decision-making process in high pressure security scenarios. Security resources can be used more effectively, as operators can see the full scope of any threat incident. If tapping or illegal activity is being done by a large group for instance, this insight will be provided, and contractors know to alert the authorities to deploy a larger force.

We believe that DAS-based pipeline intrusion detection systems (PIDS) can play an essential role in global pipeline security strategies – efficiently and effectively monitoring threats in real time.

There’s been a long history of pipeline instability in regions such as Mexico and the Middle East over the years – a trend that unfortunately I do not see abating in the near future. Authorities can’t afford to let the situation escalate further; they must turn to innovative solutions to provide security. Through responsive technology designed to combat evolving security threats, such as DAS, operators can protect their assets and prevent the onset of wider sabotage, theft, and criminal activity.

Learn more about how Fotech and DAS help protect pipelines globally by downloading our free white paper on smart monitoring

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