Pipeline protection and industrial security in Nigeria – Editorial

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By Ikenna Ifedobi for 9News Nigeria

It is noteworthy to see an air of change sweeping through Nigeria with the new political dispensation on ground. There are huge expectations towards delivering commendable service and statesmanship and the last election reflected the collective will of Nigerians towards creating a sustainable and functional economy devoid of human induced bottlenecks. However the present administration must bear in mind that planning and strategic analysis is key towards delivering a working model of reform and development.

With this being said, the issue of Nigeria’s pipelines and the immeasurable impact it has on the single cell economy springs to mind. The reason for this is that any strategic analysis without reform of the national pipeline system is grossly deficient. The pipeline network is the foundation of modern industrial economies. This is especially true for petroleum based piping because it guarantees the functionality of the entire system. Modern economies depend on a complex network of pipes, mostly underground to transport products within, to and from refineries without which these process plants would not function. Crucial upstream and downstream activities like drilling, refining, production, storage, tank farms and marine transportation of petroleum based products would perform at an inefficient rate or even grind to a total halt without the functionality and protection of pipelines.

Furthermore other secondary industries that are not directly related to crude oil or petroleum based activities are also seriously affected by pipeline issues. According to associated press the minister of power during the GEJ administration, Professor Chinedu Nebo, in an editorial piece titled “Power generation is severely hampered by pipeline vandalism” (Thisday online, Dec 23 2004) said Nigeria’s ability to grow her power supply…is being hampered by incessant vandalism of petroleum pipeline”. According to him “each time any of the major petroleum pipelines in the country is vandalized, electricity generation drops…for at least 4 to 6 weeks and vandalism was still a factor to be considered as one of the major challenges in the country’s power production”. Thus it can be seen that pipeline vandalism is a huge contributor to Nigeria’s epileptic and unreliable power supply since about 81 percent of power in the country is generated by thermal plants dependent of gas supply.

Aside from electricity, all other areas and industries are one way or the other affected by vandalized pipelines. Take for instance the poor quality of life in Apapa Nigeria, where petroleum transport tankers have turned major road ways to parking lots. Think about the risk this dysfunctional activity brings not just to the general public at large in terms of impromptu explosions, and the overall effect it can have on the economy of Lagos state and Nigeria as a whole if one of these tankers leaks and catches fire from maybe a random unquenched cigarette, initiating a domino effect that would ignite the 200 tank complex. That is a disaster waiting to happen. If pipelines were available and functioning as they should be, that level of risk would only be imagined, but today it’s as real as the air we breathe.

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Think about how much better our refineries would perform with the connecting pipelines working as they should. Without inter and intra connecting pipelines and the associated security, the new refineries being built today would inevitably suffer the same fate as the old ones and would in a short period of time become edifices for wild animals and overgrown shrubbery. According to online sources, Nigeria loses about one hundred and fifty thousand barrels (150,000) of crude oil per day to pipeline vandals. At today’s Brent crude price of approxiamtely 48 dollars a barrel, this would amount to 7.2 million dollars a day, 50.4 million dollars a week, and 2.6 BILLION dollars a year! Just half of this amount would revitalize the entire energy sector in less than 2 years and give Nigeria a permanent economic boom. But instead, these resources go to scavenger merchants domestic and foreign. What a shame!

The previous administration under former President Goodluck Jonathan leaned towards indigenous communities and local vigilante task forces protecting the pipelines, while the present administration of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari has opted for aerial drones to do the job. With all due respect, in this age of high technology and with the prevalence of intelligent Nigerian professionals on the international stage, these options are quite laughable. This is because the system needs a more proactive and preventative measure that would detect the motive before real damage begins. Asking indigenous peoples to protect the pipelines, knowing the huge profits bunkering brings and the poverty in these areas is like asking a fox to guard the poultry, and drones on the other hand are too distant to be effective. Drones can be shot down with projectile weapons and we all know pipeline vandals come armed, also if the drones fly too high they become altogether ineffective. Plus drones are better used as part of an integral system of on-the-ground- policing rather than a standalone option. If theses drones attempt to stop a bunkering activity by being weaponized, they may destroy the very pipelines they were employed to protect.

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Therefore the only viable and intelligent option left is digital surveillance. This is what is currently used in most parts of the world and has been known to yield remarkable results. Digital surveillance is proactive and preventative at the same time and provides real time protection without the time lapse of a back and forth flying drone prone to being shot down. Distributed Acoustic Sensing (D.A.S), specifically is the state of the art technology that guarantees the safety of pipelines and crucial asset perimeters from sabotage, illegal tapping, terrorist action, leakage and in-line equipment failure; a drone cannot tell you when a leak occurs from thousands of feet in the air blinded by a canopy of dense trees. This technology is the new application being used in the pipeline security world today and has garnered an international track record for its level of accuracy and efficiency. This technology unlike the other options proposed can provide advanced warning of the activities leading up to an incident.

Akin to sensors used in telecommunication, D.A.S is basically fiber optic cables laid in the vicinity of the asset, in this case pipelines, which create an acoustic array of virtual microphones at periodic intervals along the asset. The sounds detected are sent to a processing unit which analyses and determines the nature of the activity. It is sensitive enough to detect people walking 10 meters away, manual digging and vehicles 15 meters away, mechanical digging and large machinery up to 50 meters away. This technology is synchronized with hidden cameras along strategic locations and serves as the foundation of the entire system. Specialized Drones may be introduced at this point as a secondary option to track fleeing vandals to their hiding point or home base upon which military or police options can be exercised. This is how it’s done. Without Digital Acoustic Sensing, it would be hard to detect even non-human leaks that may compromise the system. It is highly efficient once installed and can protect not just long stretches of piping, but asset battery limits from any kind of intrusion or compromise. It is GPS compatible thus making it the most accurate and efficient option available today.

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Perhaps the reason for the lack of creativity in Nigeria’s policy making today is the disenfranchisement of the professional youth and their apparent alienation from statesmanship. Obama who is widely hailed as one of the most dynamic and progressive presidents in U.S assumed office at the age of 44. President Muhammadu Buhari was federal Commissioner of Petroleum and Natural Resources in 1978 at the tender age of 34. Ask yourself how many people within Nigeria’s circle of statesmen today and especially within the present government dispensation fall within that age range. This is a troubling phenomenon. The youthful demographic in today’s hi tech world have an unparalleled savviness for scientific and computer based advancement. Ideas as such proposed herein could only be actualized by involving the experienced and professional youth that have worked widely in international circles but still hold a sentiment towards service for their homeland. Let us hope that the issues of bunkering and petroleum pipeline destruction would be tackled head on by this government and would soon be a thing of the past, for until this plague is neutralized, every policy initiated for the Nigerian oil and gas sector would fall short. Without an efficient and functional network of pipelines, the entire industrial economy of Nigeria would operate at an epileptic rate. There is hope that the right steps and policies will be followed.

Ikenna Ifedobi is a consultant of the American Petroleum Institute (API) and economist based in USA. ikennaifedobi@gmail.com.

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