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Analysis

Solutions for Fuel Theft

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:53

During the election year, some processes within the oil and gas industry experienced a slowdown. It is not unusual for the industry to reset itself, just as it occurs to services that are fundamental in ensuring the safety of the country’s hydrocarbons, such as pipeline testing. Óscar Luis González Arias, Director for Latin American Operations at NDT Systems & Services, believes this is the main reason for the increase in oil theft in the country.

“The amount of inspection that Pemex does on a yearly basis dropped during 2012 due to the political timing,” González Arias explains. This propelled the number of intentional and accidental leaks the industry has seen in the year. “Pemex Refining discontinued the Zero Wall program we implemented ten years ago, since the contract expired and they did not have the budget for a new one. With this program, Pemex had secured its pipelines. Now that it has stopped, illegal pipeline tapping has skyrocketed.”

 “NDT’s operation is to find defects on the pipeline created by the environment or the materials used to build it. However, the company’s system detects the illegal taps within the pipelines as a by-product,” González Arias describes. “NDT’s system is not perfect, since it can only detect the illegal taps in the moment it passes through the pipe. If the illegal tap is created one day after our detection system goes by, there is no way to tell.” However, NDT has modified its contracts with Pemex to perform more detailed testing and inspection, and become part of the solution for the fuel theft problems in the country. “The company now conducts surprise inspections on a more frequent basis, and changes the schedule to return to already inspected pipelines. There, the NDT team focuses on finding things that have changed, instead of what they had already discovered.”

González Arias suggests that the inspection service that NDT provides could very well complement real-time monitoring systems to eradicate security issues in pipelines. “Real-time monitoring systems let Pemex know when its pipelines have been hit, but do not give the necessary detail as to the exact location. By the time Pemex gets to the point where the pipeline has been tapped, a good amount of crude has been stolen,” he details. “With a real-time monitoring and better inspection methods, we can provide faster reactions, and if paired with detection tools, a comprehensive system can be created to diminish fuel theft.”

The next step for NDT is up since the contracting environment has improved from the moment President Enrique Peña Nieto appointed his team. “NDT was awarded three contracts by Pemex Gas last year, Pemex Refining is about to release interesting bids, and the company has already secured contracts with players in the private sector such as Gasoductos de Chihuahua, Sempra, and Mayacan,” González Arias concludes. “This gives us a new customer, a new player in need of the same inspection requirements, under the same rules.”