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Indian Oil’s Pipelines - The Backbone of Refining and Marketing Operations
Interview with P. K. Chakraborty, Director (Pipelines), IOCL

What are the competitive advantages of cross-country pipelines to oil industry?
Cross country pipelines are recognized worldwide as the most reliable mode of transportation of petroleum oil. These are also regarded as the most cost effective, environment-friendly and energy efficient mode. They provide logistic support to refineries and marketing terminals and connect to other strategic locations between production and consumption centres. Thus, pipelines form a major linkage in supply chain management for distribution of petroleum products.

The companies with a large network of pipelines have a competitive advantage as their transportation cost is lower as compared to other modes.

How dependable are these pipelines?
In the face of disaster like floods, cyclone, earthquake, etc. these pipelines continue to maintain the supply line without being affected by the natural calamities. Time and again this has been demonstrated all over the world.

What is the overall scenario of pipeline industry in India?
The cross-country pipeline industry in India is about four and a half decade old. During this period, though there has been significant growth of cross-country petroleum pipelines in the country, there is a large scope for its expansion. In developed countries, 60-65 per cent of the total petroleum products are moved through pipelines as compared to 30-35 per cent in India.

Today, India has over 13,500 km (9500 km of product and 4000 km of crude oil pipelines) network of pipelines in downstream petroleum sector. Besides, the upstream oil companies in India operate about 6800 km of crude oil pipeline. In addition to this, the gas companies also operate about 9000 km of gas / LPG pipeline.

Indian Oil has shown significant progress in establishing pipelines since its inception. Can you tell us some of its achievements?
The first one, the 435 km long pipeline from Guwahati to Siliguri was commissioned in 1964. Since then there has been tremendous growth in our pipeline network.

Today, IndianOil owns and operates a network of 9300 km of pipelines with a total capacity of 62 million metric tonnes per annum.

The coming years will focus more on gas as the source of energy. What plans are afoot in gas sector?
IndianOil sees gas pipelines as a major growth area in the future. The gas market in India is expanding fast, thanks to enhanced availability of the commodity from indigenous sources and through imports. The proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipelines are also likely to open new doors of opportunity in this fastest growing segment in the global primary energy market. IndianOil has also made foray into laying LPG Pipeline and Regassified LNG Pipeline.

What are the future plans of pipelines in Indian Oil?
Currently we are implementing 13 projects of different sizes and magnitude. By the end of the XI Plan, we aim to add another 4000 km of pipeline length in our system.

What is the kind of investments of IndianOil has planned for expanding its network?
Well, the total investment planned in expansion of our pipeline network is estimated to be around Rs. 4,000 crore.

Tell us something about the safety and security aspects of pipelines?
Safety and security of 66 pipeline installations across the country as also our extensive network of 9300 km long pipeline is our prime concern. At all pipeline installations, round-the-clock security has been provided. Surveillance of our underground pipelines is carried out by line patrolling. Besides, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) System is being utilised to monitor the pipeline operations. 

Regarding security of pipelines, Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas has taken up the issue of amendment of existing Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act, 1962 in order to provide deterrent punishment to culprits, vandals, saboteurs, etc. for oil pilferage from pipelines.
Where does IndianOil stand with respect of global pipeline operations?
IndianOil is a technology leader in pipelines operations. Our operations are world-class and standards have been benchmarked to global levels. Specific studies undertaken by International Consultants in this regard have established these. All our pipeline units are ISO-9001 and EMS-14001 certified.

How do you maintain and sustain such a vast network of pipelines?
The condition monitoring of the pipelines are done regularly through various surveys and inspection. A two-prong approach is employed to protect the pipelines from external corrosion, the primary protection by sophisticated coating system and the secondary protection by providing impressed current cathodic protection system. Besides, corrosion inhibitors are injected to protect the interior of the pipelines against internal corrosion.

Any technological intervention?
Yes, we are continuously adopting new technologies in carrying out pipeline inspection and integrity management system to help operators maintain peak performance of their pipelines. We do carry out refurbishment and replacement of defective section of the pipeline from time to time, based on the analysis of the pipeline integrity test.

What about your foreign field operation activities?
Our engineers are providing consultancy services to Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company Limited (GNPOC) in Sudan in developing pipeline operations procedures for their 1506 km long pipeline, which includes six pump stations and marine terminal. Over the years, IndianOil has been imparting training to the engineers of GNPOC in Sudan on different aspects of pipeline operations and maintenance.

We are also utilizing our expertise in overseas opportunities in project execution and operations and maintenance of pipelines.

What are the challenges ahead?
The greatest challenge today is to keep pace with ever expanding competitive scenario and fast changing demands from customers. We, at IndianOil, are sensitive to this issue and are planning to expand our pipeline network to connect major emerging consumption points.

We plan to aggressively enter into gas pipeline business so as to maintain our leadership in the pipeline industry.

Being an expert in the pipeline industry, how do you foresee the future of pipelines in India?
As I have mentioned earlier, only 30 to 35 per cent of petroleum products are transported through pipelines in India, thus providing enormous opportunities for expansion of pipelines.  Our thrust is to leverage pipeline capabilities for creating a national grid of gas and product pipelines.  Creation of this environment friendly green mode of transportation of liquid gold would certainly contribute to the growth of infrastructure in India. It will also ensure availability of uninterrupted petroleum products to all sections of the society, in far flung areas. We can strive for a healthy environment and thriving community for the next generation.

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