Sonny Iroche argues the need for both public, private sectors and the education institutions to collaborate on the effective adoption of AI to arrest the revenue haemorrhage 

Crude oil theft in the Niger-Delta region has been a long-standing and challenging issue in Nigeria, leading to significant economic losses and environmental damage and degradation. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that revenues from oil are largely responsible for funding the entire country’s budget and development. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to address such problems and challenges in other developed climes, and should be of interest to the Nigerian petroleum industry, if it intends to seriously address the long- standing menace of crude oil theft, which seems to have defied solutions of past governments. This article explores and supports how the current government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu could guide the industry to leverage AI technologies in tackling this festering crude oil theft effectively.

Nigeria is one of the largest oil-producing countries in Africa, with the Niger-Delta region being the heartbeat of its oil industry. However, the region has been plagued by pervasive crude oil theft for many years, with criminal syndicates siphoning millions of barrels of oil annually. This rampant theft not only leads to massive economic losses and deprivation for the Nigerian government and oil companies but also causes severe environmental damage.

AI analysts have commented on the massive deployment of the nascent technology in multi-sector industries across the world, and highlighting how the race of the deployment of AI in all aspects of production is disrupting technology while spending billions of dollars on AI Research and Development. 

Although there is a dearth of the infrastructure such as power and water to support the efficient adoption of AI in Nigeria, but it is still imperative that the public, private sectors and the education institutions should collaborate on the effective adoption of AI and the supporting infrastructure put in place to curb the loss of revenue accruing to the country. 

For the government to seriously embark on putting a permanent end to this organized criminality of crude oil theft in Nigeria, it must as a matter of urgency consider the use of AI through some of the following mechanisms which the use of AI can enhance, such as detailed here under: 

Monitoring and Surveillance: AI-powered drones and satellite imaging can be used to monitor oil pipelines and detect any anomalies or unauthorized activities in real-time. By analyzing the data collected by these technologies, authorities can identify potential theft hotspots and take proactive measures to prevent it.

Predictive Analytics: AI algorithms can analyze historical data on oil theft incidents, weather patterns, and social factors to predict future theft activities. By leveraging predictive analytics, law enforcement agencies can deploy resources more effectively and deter potential thieves before they strike.

Enhanced Security Systems: AI can be used to develop sophisticated security systems that can detect and track suspicious activities around oil installations. For example, facial recognition technology can help identify known criminals, while smart sensors can alert authorities to any unauthorized access to restricted areas.

Collaboration with Tech Companies: Nigeria can partner with local and international tech companies, some of whom participated in the recent National Artificial Intelligence Strategy session for Nigeria, that specialize in AI and cybersecurity to develop customized solutions for combating oil theft in the Niger-Delta region. By leveraging the expertise of these companies, Nigeria can stay ahead of sophisticated criminal networks and protect its oil resources more effectively.

Some of these technologies are not in any way a reinvention of the wheel, or blazing new trails. They are not new, but are already being used effectively in other oil producing countries like, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and the USA. 

In Mexico, AI-powered drones have been used to monitor oil pipelines and detect illegal tapping, leading to a significant reduction in oil theft incidents.

The United States Coast Guard has employed AI algorithms to analyze maritime data and predict potential oil theft activities, allowing them to deploy resources more efficiently and combat illegal oil smuggling.

Saudi Arabia, as one of the largest oil-producing countries in the world, employs a variety of technologies and strategies to monitor its crude oil production effectively. The country has a sophisticated monitoring system in place to ensure the smooth operation of its oil fields and to prevent any disruptions or unauthorized activities. Here are some of the key methods Saudi Arabia uses to monitor its crude oil production:

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Systems: Saudi Arabia utilizes SCADA systems to monitor and control its oil production facilities in real-time. These systems collect data from various sensors and equipment across oil fields and pipelines, allowing operators to monitor production levels, detect any abnormalities, and respond promptly to any issues that may arise.

Remote Sensing Technologies: Saudi Arabia leverages remote sensing technologies, such as satellite imaging and drones, to monitor its oil fields and infrastructure from a distance. These technologies enable authorities to conduct regular inspections, detect any leaks or unauthorized activities, and ensure the security of oil production facilities.

Reservoir Monitoring: Saudi Arabia employs advanced reservoir monitoring techniques, such as downhole sensors and well logging tools, to assess the performance of its oil reservoirs and optimize production processes. By continuously monitoring reservoir conditions, Saudi Arabia can make informed decisions to maximize oil recovery and extend the lifespan of its oil fields.

Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence: Saudi Arabia has also started incorporating data analytics and Artificial Intelligence into its oil production monitoring efforts. By analyzing large volumes of data generated from production operations, Saudi Arabia can identify trends, predict equipment failures, and optimize production processes to enhance efficiency and reduce costs.

If there is a serious and deliberate commitment and the willingness to invest in the enumerated AI strategies highlighted above, Nigeria would have the unique opportunity to leverage AI to tackle crude oil theft in the Niger-Delta region effectively. It is also important to mention here that the insecurity in the region should also be addressed at the same time. Furthermore, by investing in AI technologies, enhancing surveillance and security systems, and fostering collaboration with tech companies, as earlier stated, Nigeria can protect its oil installations, resources, and effectively promote sustainable development in the entire country and meet its OPEC quota, which it has not been able to achieve in a long time. 

 Iroche writes from the Saïd Business School of the University of Oxford, England. He was one of the participants in the recent Nigeria National Artificial Intelligence Strategy Workshop in Abuja

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