Pipelines are the most economical and environment friendly means to transport petroleum products and chemicals. The importance of pipelines to a country’s infrastructure is high. Damage to pipelines can result in considerable loss of revenue and also lead to significant harm to the environment. The security of pipelines carrying critical resources like oil and gas is therefore a major cause of concern for nations and private pipeline owners alike. Pipelines need to be protected against a variety of problems. These range from external threats like terrorist attacks, sabotage and illegal tapping to technical problems like leaks and in-line equipment damage. Accidents may also occur due to natural factors like earthquakes.
Pipeline networks consist of several components like regulator stations, initial injection stations, compressor/pump stations etc., all of which function together in moving the intended product. Since these pipeline networks are sometimes controlled by private companies, government regulations around the world require the pipeline companies to have emergency response programs specific to their infrastructure to be in place that manage and mitigate the risks that can occur from damage to pipelines or its components. The threats are not just physical. Cyber attacks are also a cause of concern these days, especially with critical infrastructure installations like pipelines increasingly becoming targets. With a number of pipelines already having become targets to cyber attacks, governments have begun to issue cyber security regulations as well to pipeline owners.
Security measures commonly employed include aerial, video and radar surveillance, ground patrolling with security personnel etc. Some of these methods are cost intensive, and it is not practical to deploy security personnel over the entire length of pipelines which mostly extend many kilometers. Newer systems are in the market now which use fiber optics technologies like Distributed Acoustic Sensing for providing Perimeter Intrusion Detection. These systems can even provide advanced warning of possible events that can cause damage like for example approaching earth moving equipment. Gas leaks can also be detected with these systems. Highly automated leak detection systems are available that enable pipeline companies to monitor rates of flow, pipeline pressure and fluid characteristics in real time from a central control room. Magnetic flux and ultrasonic tools known as “smart pigs” help in leak detection and pipeline monitoring.
With the worldwide increase in energy demand, there has also been a growth in backbone infrastructure like pipeline networks that is necessary for fuel transport, the world over. The security of these systems are an increasing cause for concern especially with the environmental damage and harm to people that these systems can cause in case of a failure. The importance of pipeline networks and the fact that they are increasingly becoming targets for attack are raising the demand for pipeline security systems worldwide.