Alarmed over increasing threats from the well-organised gangs of oil thieves, the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), nation’s largest public sector oil corporation, has decided to rope in an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for effective surveillance of its underground pipelines. Official sources claim that the initiative would be the first of its kind in the country where a drone would be used for such surveillance.
“IOC will use the hi-tech aerial surveillance for next few months on a pilot basis on Panipat-Jalandhar pipeline. If it gives desired results, similar initiatives may be extended for surveillance of other pipeline networks in the country,” chief spokesperson of Panipat-based IOC refinery N Shiva Kumar told Hindustan Times on Wednesday. He said that the drone would help in giving a real-time information in case of pilferage or any untoward situation in the pipeline network.
On August 4, a case was detected at Begumpur village in Karnal district where the accused had dug a tunnel to pilfer diesel from the underground pipeline. It was stated to be a second such case in the country where criminals had used sophisticated techniques to puncture the pipeline in a concealed manner. Police sources said that a total of 92 cases of oil theft had been reported from Haryana since IOC refinery in Panipat was established in 1998. Sources said that IOC suffered huge losses due to the incidents of pilferage.
However, undermining the financial losses incurred in oil thefts, the public sector company said that safety of human lives and environment was of much higher importance for them. “Plugging oil pilferage is certainly significant but any incident of leakage and sabotage can lead to losses beyond imagination. It is certainly a matter of concern when a gang dug a tunnel and stole oil. IOC wants to give a firm answer to such instances,” said Shiva Kumar. Most of the pilferage sites were located in agriculture fields, near abandoned water drains, panchayat grounds and forest lands.
IOC said that if pilferages go wrong, they could be a great safety and fire hazard and create heavy environmental pollution, damage to water bodies, spoil natural drinking water facilities, soil and could be harmful to even public property and human life.
“Interruption in supply of petroleum products for civilian and defence requirements would be drastically hampered in case of any damage to the supply line,” he said.
IOC’s Panipat refinery has a control room which monitors pressure in the pipelines roundthe-clock. Lowering pressures of refined petroleum products means theft or leakage in the pipeline due to other reasons.
“It is always a challenge to identify the exact spot and reach there in time. As per the proposal, a drone would be taken to the disturbed spot by road and it would be commissioned for aerial surveillance. It would have a potential to hover about 500-metre from ground, besides having nightvision facility. The GPS connectivity will immediately transmit data to our surveillance team,” said the spokesperson.
Internal inspection tool
IOC is also using nstrumented Pipeline Inspection Gauge (i-PIG) high-tech gadget to supervise the internal health of pipelines.
A round-shaped gadget that runs inside the pipeline, i-PIG had helped the IOC in the recent case of pilferage in Karnal where oil was stolen by digging a long tunnel.
“Developed by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, i-PIG is used to clear impurities for smooth flow of petroleum products. As the gadget contains a camera, technical experts can take full assessment of pipeline and specific point where it is punctured. As its success was experienced recently, i-PIG and UAV can together assist us from internal and aerial monitoring,” said Shiva Kumar.
Modus operandi of oil thieves
IOC officials observe that welltrained people are engaged in oil theft cases. Sources said that normally pipeline is drilled randomly with the help of high-precision tools and fix a valve in the underground to steal petroleum products. “Since the pipelines are four-five feet below surface, one cannot easily identify the underground pipes. Miscreants locate oil networks with the help of caution markers and make a blind try on the pipe to extract oils. Once succeeded, the miscreants start taking out oil for days together in small quantity as it not possible for anyone to handle petroleum products flowing at such a high pressure,” the sources said.
Police sources said that according to a rough estimate, thieves have extracted oil to the tune of several lakhs of rupees.