By Maj Gen SCN Jatar
Normally, an offshore oil & gas installation such as a drilling rig or production platform is rarely under threat unless it is an act of sabotage or war by a country against another. This is because such installations are well-protected. Offshore pipelines are more prone to sabotage because they are long-distance and it is not cost-effective to protect every centimetre of the length. Further, nations are very sensitive to encroachments in their seas. The foundation is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982). It says that a country may claim an area extending 12 nautical miles from its coast as its own territorial sea. Additionally, it can exploit 200 nautical miles of the water column beyond its coast as its exclusive economic zone.
Pipelines are attractive targets both for sabotage and for theft. Offshore long-distance gas pipelines which traverse sea zones belonging to different countries are thus susceptible to attacks. However, attacks on deep-sea pipelines require elaborate preparations. It almost becomes a military operation. Hence, there are very few such attacks. It is also more likely that there will be tell-tale signs that would give away the identity of the perpetrators. Thus, the attraction to blow up offshore installation is generally an act of sabotage or of terrorism. It is not for theft or for profit.
In the case of onshore petroleum installations, the commonest reason is for theft or profit. It is also easier for the saboteurs to tackle onshore installations or pipelines. Again, gas pipelines are not easy to breach because gas cannot be stolen is under pressure because of which safety considerations become imperative. Crude oil or product pipelines are more susceptible because the liquid fuel can be stolen, which is a very profitable business.
Our experience in Assam suggests that it is neither cost-effective nor foolproof to guard every centimetre of the pipeline. It is like guarding the line of control or the border between the two countries. The only deterrent is to repair the pipeline in the shortest possible time. Once the saboteurs know that the pipeline will be repaired quickly, the incentive to deploy resources to destroy or blow up a pipeline vanishes.
In both the East and West i.e. Assam and Gujarat, breaching a pipeline for stealing the liquid fuel is common. The perpetrators have developed a technique by which they make temporary breaches and fix gauges to siphon off the liquid fuel. This is an industry and is flourishing.
With sophisticated equipment, it is now possible to immediately locate the place of the breach because the fall in pressure is recorded in the control room. Even then the need to repair the pipeline remains.
Commissioned in the Bombay Sappers Maj Gen. SCN Jatar commanded the 105 Engineer Regiment in the 1971 war, and served as Staff Officer to Gen. K. V. Krishna Rao Expert Committee for the reorganization of the Indian Army before going on to create a niche for himself as CMD of Oil India, CMD ONGC Videsh Limited, and Chairman SCOPE (apex body of the PSUs).