It was during my intern-ship at Oil India Limited, Duliajan, Assam this year when I got to interact with many people and got a glimpse of their lives. Usually during the field visits to the oil wells, I used to sit in the front seat of the vehicle and talk to the driver during the journey from office to the oil wells, located in the suburbs or remote areas. During one of the visits,we were talking about oil theft in the locality and I was amazed at how people steal oil and gas from nearby pipelines.
Stealing oil from a pipeline is a very risky affair as there always is a chance of large scale leakage, leading to a fire or something hazardous like that. Yet, people commit daredevil acts to get oil, that too in its crudest form.
What I learnt during the conversation is that some local residents somehow make an outlet out of a live pipeline to steal oil flowing through that pipeline in a very unconventional way. What they do is, they make a hole in the pipeline and then they dig a small, but deep pit just below the pipeline. Flowing oil gets a way to divert into and it flows out of the hole into the pit at great pressure. These pits are about three to four square feet. In these pits, the thieves make a “container” by using plastic sacks to hold the oil. The container is made like a pot and it can hold a substantial amount of oil. Oil is collected here and then used in many ways.
The oil collected in this way is of the crudest form, just drilled out of an oil well. It is not like the conventional petroleum or diesel that we use in our vehicles because that oil has not been sent to a refinery yet. This crude oil cannot be used in our vehicles, and if you do, it would just mean that you are murdering your vehicle’s engine. However, thieves have designed the engines of their motorbikes in such a way that they can run even using crude oil. They convert the stolen crude oil into some form of a “condensate” which they use as fuel for their bikes. This crude oil is exclusively for their personal use as these cannot be used in other vehicles. According to the driver, it cuts the cost of refuelling the bikes and after purchasing a bike, the thieves can run them on these crude oil at almost free of cost!
But, even here there is a twist. This raw crude oil is also smuggled to nearby villages. Cops seem to be the hindrance in the path of these thieves and as a result they cannot smuggle it openly. Now what they do is, they buy an old car and use its fuel tank to smuggle the stolen crude oil. The car also runs in that “condensate” which they locally synthesize and it is actually the condensate which is smuggled. The car’s fuel tank is filled with the condensate and it is taken to other villages or areas where the tank is emptied and unloaded.
Cops are aware of this and the driver says that if you visit the nearest police station now, you can see 4-5 thieves and smugglers like this locked up behind bars. But the unfortunate thing is that the number of thieves outnumbers the number of cops. Moreover, these thieves undertake “shift duties” to look after a theft zone. Thieves are very well aware of where to steal what. They know what comes through which pipeline. If they spot officials or cops approaching, the stealthily move away from the place and there is no way one can identify a thief from a crowd of local people.
The irony is that the oil industry faces quite a substantial loss due to such activities and yet there is no way you can stop the thieves…
© Barnadhya Rwitam Sharma
Representational images only, taken from Google. Contact writer if you have any issues.