Threats to pipelines are seemingly on the rise. In a report published earlier this year, the U.S Congressional Research Service positioned pipeline protection as a significant factor in ensuring national security, stating:
“Ongoing threats against the nation’s natural gas, oil, and refined product pipelines have heightened concerns about the security risks.”
With over 2.4 million miles of pipelines running across the country, this is not a situation the US can afford to take lightly. The fuels being transported through these pipes provide a crucial energy source, but they’re also volatile and dangerous materials. If not secured adequately, there could be catastrophic consequences.
And a fear of terrorism is well founded. Due to their remote nature, pipelines are difficult to monitor, and are seen as possible soft targets for extremist groups and violent political regimes.
In May this year, drone attacks caused damage to a major pipeline that stretches for hundreds of miles across Saudi Arabia, leading to rising political tensions throughout the region.
Threats are a particular problem in nations that rely heavily on a single industry. In Nigeria, terrorist attacks on pipelines caused oil production to drop by 36% in 2016, reducing government revenue by a massive 50%.
Security issues do not appear to be abating – theft has cost Nigeria as many as 22 million barrels of oil in the first half of 2019. The impacts of these incidents are wide-ranging. Every industry downstream from oil suppliers have their supplies affected. At its worst, this can lead to a rise in inflation, increased living costs and a fall in employment.
Oil pipelines are a huge source of revenue for many countries, and are typically underpinned by investment from financial institutions worldwide. However, the frequency of threats may alarm investors and cause them to move to ‘safer’ markets – if they feel commodities can easily become compromised.
Unfortunately, this can contribute to a vicious cycle, with developing nations kept even further adrift from global economic networks because of perceived instability – which in turn leads to further attacks due to of a lack of infrastructure.
This illustrates just how damaging attacks on pipelines can be. It’s not just the immediate physical dangers and lost revenue, but the ripple effects throughout the entire international community.
Clearly, threat prevention is more vital than ever, and traditional methods are proving insufficient. It’s incredibly difficult for guards alone to adequately monitor pipelines, because of the large area they span.
Supporting technologies, such as aerial surveillance, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and ground radars also have limitations, as they only give localised visibility of potential dangers.
Real-time, reliable data is required that covers the entire length of pipelines and provides protection around the clock – such as Distributed Acoustic Sensing technology (DAS).
DAS serves as a strategic partner in the fight against terrorism and theft on pipelines, alerting security personnel to the exact location of an incident and enabling a swift resolution of any potential problems.
And after an incident, post-acquisition analysis of DAS data can highlight activity associated with scouting missions or reconnaissance. This additional insight shows the value of DAS – not only helping to tighten security monitoring processes, but also providing new, previously impossible, methods to predict and pre-emptively prevent attacks or criminal activity.
With social, political and economic progress at stake if pipelines are not fully secured, it’s time for operators to turn to specialist solutions, like DAS, to ensure threats do not continue to increase.