In order to take up gas theft and leakage prevention in a pipeline system seriously and conclusively the first thing required to be done by management is to eliminate guess work – technical managers operating the system have developed trivial stories over time which are convenient for the consumption of general public and political leaders who are less familiar with technicalities involved in the process of gas theft and leakage prevention in pipelines. Such un-professional arguments are often supported (or not opposed) by regulators, like OGRA in Pakistan, due to absence of strong opposition during public hearings because of vested interests. Thus gas theft and leakage prevention in pipelines is often misunderstood as an issue that is to be rectified by political leaders alone without any technical support work and sometimes vice a versa.
Before presenting a solution for gas theft and leakage prevention in pipelines, it is useful to understand and define the problem first, so a brief description of problem is included with possible causes for the problem.
Gas Theft and Leakage in Upstream Pipelines
It is identified in various studies that gas (as well as oil) leakages and thefts occur in upstream (high pressure) pipelines due to poor maintenance and surveillance activities. These incidents are very difficult to occur without active connivance of operator employees (who are technically aware of methods required to facilitate such activities).
Operators’ neglect is a major reason for upstream gas (as well as oil) leakage or wastage in the form of flare gas and spills, where production is not reconciled with sales or deliveries to downstream consumers / clients. Regulators can play an important role to check this wastage through mandatory reconciliation of energy across various processes within the upstream sector. Regulator should issue necessary guidelines in this regards. Additionally, regulator also need to have competent field staff to visit and verify that reconciliation is being carried out on live process data and not based on false key-pad values punched by operators.
Gas Theft and Leakage in Midstream Pipelines
It is identified in various studies that gas (as well as oil) leakages and thefts occur in midstream (high pressure) pipelines – within a plant or transmission trunk lines. Again these incidents mainly occur due to lack of management focus on system reconciliation (energy based) and poor regulatory oversight. There are reported incidents where gas and oil taps are found installed on high-pressure pipelines to siphon off precious hydrocarbons without the knowledge of operators’ management – due to lack of correct and live system reconciliation.
Regulatory oversight is again required with defined SOPs to check such wastage, inefficiencies and theft practices. Active field staff deployment is necessarily required for cross-checking the claims of operators with regards to implementation of defined SOPs and regulatory guidelines. Regulators need to be equipped with requisite know-how and trained man-power to ensure compliance by industry – regulator cannot depend on operators (in a particular area of operations with vested interests) but has to set benchmarks through following international best industry practices.
Gas Theft and Leakage in Downstream Pipelines
It is identified in various studies that gas leakages and thefts occur unchecked in downstream (low pressure) pipelines – within rural, urban metropolis or industrial areas. Main causes or sources for such occurrences are:
- A lack of consumer trust on integrity and professionalism of utility operator
- Lack of employees’ system know-how due to employee turn-around or retirement
- Old and deteriorated distribution network
- Partial or total lack of documentation / digitalization of distribution network data
- Non-mapping of pipeline network on geographic information system (GIS)
- Non-existence of resources or management’s will to divide distribution network into sub-systems based on cities, towns, localities, areas, societies, industrial zones, commercial zones for pinpointing areas for theft or leakage concentration. Un-availability of such sub-divisional segregation renders the management helpless to fix responsibility on the local manager for occurrence of leakages or theft
- Lack of practices to reconcile sub-systems for gas input (energy based) and sales data (energy based) based on actual billing data trends plotted against gas input trends. This implies lack of database for gas theft and leakage prevention in pipeline system
- Partial or total lack of in-house operators’ capability to study and identify sub-systems with problems and to design rectification procedures
- Non-existence of operational SOPs prepared to disrupt tendencies for theft and leaking sub-systems or, if SOPs existing, non-implementation of such SOPs during field operations
- A non-functional remote data acquisition and trending system to monitor bulk consumers for erratic or suspicious gas loads. This includes absence of gas leakage detection and perpetual monitoring system. No data to carry out analysis for gas theft and leakage prevention in pipeline system
Requirements for Gas Theft and Leakage Prevention in Pipelines
Having described the problem, it is now easy to understand the effectiveness of solutions provided herein for rectification. It is to be understood that legislation, regulations, rules, policies and contractual arrangements between consumers and utilities all have to be synchronized for:
- providing incentives to stakeholders who cautiously care for implementing prevention
- penalizing stakeholders who cautiously violate or obstruct implementing prevention
With the above basic requirements in place following measures will help in achieving results from gas theft and leakage prevention in pipelines program:
- A decision and commitment by Company Board to improve companies image for professional integrity and efficient operations
- Preparation and approval by Company Board of Efficient Operations Policy and guidance for management to initiate changes in company’s operating procedures for physical implementation of approved policy.
- Follow-up reporting on progress of the policy program with necessary announcement of incentives and penal actions taken as appropriate.
- Policy and procedures related to gas theft and leakage prevention in pipelines can be prepared based on the following:
4-A. Training workforce for latest technical know-how
4-B. Establishing a round the clock vigilance control room in each distribution system for live monitoring, reporting and trending leakages, gas reconciliation errors and theft incidences
4-C. Preserve institutional memory through documenting and digitalization of network data.
4-C. Identify, document and digitalize sub-systems that are old and deteriorated in various distribution networks. Use geographic information system (GIS) for mapping of pipeline network.
4-D. Provide financial and technical resources to virtually divide distribution network into sub-systems based on cities, towns, localities, areas, societies, industrial zones, commercial zones for pinpointing areas for theft or leakage concentration.
4-E. Provision of resources for energy reconciliation of sub-systems for gas input (energy based) and sales / billing data (energy based) to be aggregated for entire distribution region. Gas metering and billing data should be analyzed every billing cycle for anomalies, follow-up inquiries and close-out reports.
Preparation and continuous up gradation of operational SOPs to disrupt tendencies for theft and leaking sub-systems through use of latest technologies
Resources for Gas Theft and Leakage Prevention in Pipelines
Resources are available in the form of recommended practices, standards and commercially available solutions that can be studied and deployed for achieving required skills for gas theft and leakage prevention in pipelines:
API RP 1175: Pipeline Leak Detection Program Management
API RP 1168: Pipeline Control Room Management
API RP 1162: Public Awareness Programs for Pipeline Operators
API RP 1130 (replaced API 1155): Computational Pipeline Monitoring for Liquid Pipelines
API TR 1149: Pipeline Variable Uncertainties and Their Effects on Leak Detectability
ISO 50001: Energy Management
ISO 13623:2017: Petroleum and natural gas industries — Pipeline transportation systems
ISO 8501: Corrosion Protection of Steel Structures by Painting
ISO 31000: Risk Management
ASTM F2786 – 16: Standard Practice for Field Leak Testing of Polyethylene (PE) Pressure Piping Systems Using Gaseous Testing Media Under Pressure (Pneumatic Leak Testing)
ASTM F2207 – 06(2019): Standard Specification for Cured-in-Place Pipe Lining System for Rehabilitation of Metallic Gas Pipe
ASTM F2164 – 18: Standard Practice for Field Leak Testing of Polyethylene (PE) and Crosslinked Polyethylene (PEX) Pressure Piping Systems Using Hydrostatic Pressure
ASTM E1003 – 13(2018): Standard Practice for Hydrostatic Leak Testing
ASTM E1603 / E1603M – 11(2017): Standard Practice for Leakage Measurement Using the Mass Spectrometer Leak Detector or Residual Gas Analyzer in the Hood Mode