Many onshore oil and gas repositories are discovered in some of the most remote and hostile regions, meaning rig operators who are responsible for any new facility already place security at the top of their agenda. Offshore installations are equally in high-hazard areas – facing high winds, icebergs, potential collisions with vessels steering off course, plus due to their isolated location, the fear of sabotage, terrorism and piracy is prevalent. The use of unauthorized drones around oil and gas platforms isn’t just a nuisance, it is adversarial, aggressive and must be seen as such to pre-empt and deflect any of the attempts to disrupt or interfere with operations or personnel. Oil and gas companies must be prepared, equipped, and trained to administer counter-solutions if threats are to be successfully eliminated.
Direct drone attacks
For many of the companies operating in Western or Central Africa, attacks on sites, kidnappings, theft and other terrorist related activities are frequent. According to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, over 400,000 barrels of oil are stolen by criminals every day in the country. Another report by Shell highlighted that 90% of major oil spills in Nigeria were caused by third party interference – a devastating statistic for the industry and a state so reliant on this resource. In Europe last year, drones were spotted near Norwegian rigs and multiple gas leaks were found in the Nord Stream pipelines that connect Russia and Germany, resulting in natural gas pouring into the Baltic Sea. Danish and Swedish authorities indicated that the incidents were not accidental.
This type of sabotage has made nations and businesses take precautions, vulnerabilities addressed, and vigilance demonstrated. Protecting a site from a drone attack can involve employing surveillance drones to provide a live feed over a specified area, transmitting minute by minute updates, revealing any signs of vandalism, sabotage or abnormalities in real-time. Further to this, counter-drone technology can flag anything unusual to security or rig officials to elicit a quick response. Counter-drone solutions focus on locating, monitoring and neutralizing drone threats and ensures the oil and gas industry remains one step ahead of the criminals.
A strike on an oil and gas facility could be incendiary, one which has immediate, catastrophic consequences on rig workers and the business itself. In 2018, Greenpeace launched a drone over a nuclear plant’s airspace and crashed it into the fuel cell container. This was a warning shot. Flying directly into the cooling engine of a nuclear plant would be massively destructive. Any counter-solution to drone attacks must be able to detect hostile crafts and monitor their movements. Radar can monitor and detect, while jamming intercepts the signals between drone and operator. These are two crucial capabilities a solution must offer, but ultimately, the more holistic and adaptable a solution is, the better as it needs to work across complex environments, differentiating between friendly and enemy drones, while integrating with existing security systems embedded in the facility itself.
Flying without thought
One of the more unpredictable, but just as menacing threats comes in the form of ignorance and lack of experience. Many drone pilots have insufficient training, do not follow regulations and ignore or aren’t aware of no-fly zone restrictions. The careless drone operator does not have a mission or measurable flight path but can cause just as much damage over an oil rig as one piloted with intent to harm. A rogue drone that crash lands on a facility, or runs afoul of a helicopter in mid-air or intersects with a site-approved drone, can lead to loss of business, injuries and other potential calamitous costs. To avoid this, oil and gas facilities must deploy a complete, end to end system which can react and seize noncompliant drones entering its airspace at any point and any time. This means coverage isn’t restricted to predicting where a criminal breach may occur, but instead review every inch of a facility for violations – intended or otherwise.
Hijacking and espionage with drones
Material threats come in many forms, and accessing, stealing, or misappropriating information from a facility can be just as ruinous as a physical attack. A rudimentary WiFi connection makes a drone susceptible to hijacking and its trajectory changed or information clinched. For criminal actors looking for an edge, accessing the drone’s video feed undetected wouldn’t be difficult.
Around the Norwegian offshore platforms, drones have been sighted over a particularly sensitive and prohibited space. With tensions exacerbated since the beginning of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, any unapproved drone flight is considered with extreme suspicion, and the concern of espionage is high. In autumn 2022, four Russians were arrested for taking pictures of confidential areas in Norway. This is a global issue with many authorities redoubling efforts to counter industrial espionage. As vital engines of the economy, oil refineries are often the target of illegal advances by antagonist regimes. Securing the perimeters of the oil and gas facilities and implementing effective defensive technology is key to managing any unauthorized drone intruders.
To safeguard its people, protect critical infrastructure and billions of dollars’ worth of resources, the oil and gas industry must plan for every potential assault on its premises; be that espionage, the commandeering of authorized drones or a direct, physical attack, and install appropriate counter-solutions to monitor, mitigate and manage the threat. Collaborating with national authorities, regulators and multi-national industry bodies, the oil and gas sector needs to refine protocols to ensure they are watertight and apply robust countermeasures, so the response from facilities whether in Norway or Nigeria, is proactive and formidable.