Drones demonstrating their value

Offshore oilrig: With the advancement in drones and related technologies, drones are increasingly finding their way into various capital-intensive sectors such as Oil and Gas, both Onshore and Offshore. Increasingly, the world’s largest oil producers are using drones to supplement the work of their technicians.

Given the complications and high costs associated with offshore exploration and operations, companies are now relying on drones as a cheaper and effective alternative in helping them overcome some of the regular challenges in the day-to-day operations. Drones aim to make offshore operations safer and (cost) efficient. The operational efficiency of drones, along with inherent speed and mobility improves surveillance and quick response It also eliminates the need to deploy manpower in remote and hazardous locations.

The drone infrastructure enables a secure and strong communication network, leading to quick detection and management of issues, at a fraction of the costs compared to traditional methods.

Offshore Oil and Gas Operations

The Oil and Gas industry is estimated to spend around $50 billion a year globally to monitor pipelines that run up to nearly 10 million kilometers.

One of the major challenges in running an offshore operation is to survey, detect and locate leaks in remote locations. Traditional methods have proved to be both expensive and inefficient, as they lead to shutdowns (causing procedural delays), while the safety of on-the-ground employees also remains a concern, leading to additional cost outlays.

Oil and Gas market

The Oil and Gas industry Value Chain is broadly separated into 3 components: Upstream, Midstream and Downstream.

  • Upstream sector includes searching for potential underground and underwater crude oil and natural gas fields, drilling exploratory wells, and subsequently drilling and operating wells that recover and bring crude oil or raw natural gas to the surface. By its nature this implies operating in newly chartered geographical territories or waters.
  • Midstream refers the transportation of crude or petroleum products via pipelines etc.
  • Downstream refers to refineries and other production companies closer to the end consumer.

Exploration and Production

Offshore Exploration and Production (E&P) fits into the Upstream component. Market analysts McKinsey predicts that with shale product to plateau offshore output will grow to meet resulting demand growth.


Working in the harsh environments of offshore oilrig platforms puts workers at a higher risk and it follows that safety is a major concern.

Currently there are about 180 plus oil and rigs in the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico alone. In the Gulf Mexico 55 inspectors go offshore every day to using 14 leased helicopters to conduct inspections.

Offshore Oilrig design

By design offshore oilrigs are to function independently from surrounding infrastructure as would be the case with a land based structure. These platform designs tend to be vertical, complex and compact to save surface area and complicated to navigate for both personnel and equipment for maintenance purposes as a result. Climate conditions can vary to extreme degrees, subjecting not only the offshore platform to excessive wear and tear and therefor requiring intensive maintenance programs, but also the maintenance staff to dangerous working conditions. Inspection and detection is therefore not only very important, but much more difficult.

Different maintenance zones

One of the complications in maintenance of offshore platforms is the different areas of water contact and maintenance: Underwater zone, Wave (Splash) zone and Dry zone.

offshore oil rigs have different maintenance zones
Different maintenance zones for offshore oilrigs

Being exposed to sea water results in both general and ‘pitting’ forms of corrosion, the latter being extremely dangerous. Corrosion is a major cause of deterioration of metallic structures. The different zones have different wear and tear profiles requiring different types of inspection equipment. This leads to a requirement for multi-skilled resources that are able to deal with the different environments, which frequently are not available in such remote sites as offshore platforms.

The offshore oil rig platforms also have production processes that produce (hydrocarbon) gasses that are highly toxic, explosive and/or corrosive. The high-risk conditions that result from this range respiratory challenges to slippery platforms.

Current modes of operation

Keeping an oil rig in working order involves a high volume of inspections carried out over several weeks by a number of technical resources in very unsafe conditions.

The resources and effort required to maintain the vital coating that protects oil rigs from saltwater and corrosive marine air requires a technician dangles over the side of the rig and takes photos of the coating, which an engineer then examines.

  • Rig inspections conducted by rope-access technicians can take up to eight weeks and involve shutting down production downtime costs $7 million per day.
  • Requires safety vessels trawling the waters in case a technician falls overboard.

Using Drones for Offshore Oilrigs 

Drone inspection makes it possible to access areas of oil and gas constructions that otherwise may pose health, safety and environmental risks in a fast and safe way.Visual inspection by an unmanned drone is a quick and cost-effective inspection method of critical areas on onshore and offshore constructions. Drone inspection enables access to otherwise inaccessible structures and details, offering immediate action as an alternative to more traditional, time consuming and costly inspection methods like rope access, sky-lifts, cherry pickers and scaffolding.

Figure 2 Drones for Offshore Oilrig inspection

Benefits of using Drones

  • quick overview and evaluation of hard to reach areas
  • with a few flybys, drones can spot a problem before the first fleck of rust appears. This will save time, effort and money.
  • drone-aided rig inspections can take as little as three to five days – no shutdown.
  • preventive maintenance planning and optimized production
  • access to areas that pose health, safety and environmental risk to humans
  • high level of safety for personnel
  • high quality images and video – sharp and detailed photographs of defects
  • quick on-site deployment of the drone inspection system
  • It is nor necessary to wait for scheduled helicopters. This means that these tasks can performed at will, as and when the need arises.
  • not being constrained by the human form, these drones can manoeuvre into tight spaces where a person can’t. It can also combine various types of inspection equipment onto a single platform.
  • employing remote medics for rigs (enabling on-the-spot medical diagnosis and treatment remotely)

Main Areas to deploy Drones in offshore oilrigs

Security– provide constant vigilance over offshore infrastructure and assets through an aerial view of the surrounding area. Especially where vessels may face risk of piracy.

Monitoring of Gas Emissions – survey and identify leaks. Various processes in offshore platforms involve the use and production of hazardous combustible, toxic and nontoxic gases. Gas emissions are even more difficult to monitor offshore.

Detection of Oil Spill and Damages. Measure and quantify oil spills with respect to the affected area and the pace of its spread. Reducing its spread reduces overall recovery time.

Offshore Oil Platform Inspections. Close aerial inspection enables early detection (and thus, repair/maintenance) of structural damage providing operators with high definition still-images and videos.

Flare Stack Inspections. The speed and responsiveness of drones becomes vital in optical assessments of flare stack heads, reducing the risk associated with such inspections by eliminating:

– the need for manpower to climb the stacks;

– the need to shut down the stacks (for the safety of employees and costs).

Artificial Intelligence to combat offshore oilrig rust

At a cost of 60 -80bn USD per annum off-shore corrosion is a huge issue in the maritime industries.

Technologies advancements are being made in the remote inspection and detection techniques enable much improved approaches to asset life cycle management strategies, especially rust on oilrigs.

Using artificial intelligence (AI) models to detect and assess levels of corrosion and coating breakdown on ships and offshore structures. AI techniques could be further used for further assessment of images to understand corrosion and coating breakdown trends.

Visual inspection data gathered by remote inspection technologies such as drones further reduces costs and safety risks.  Using machine learning (ML) technology, the inspection data can then be assessed automatically to identify and segment defects such as coating failures, corrosion, and structural damage.

Rather than calendar driven maintenance procedure, AI will determine when and how surveys and maintenance is conducted.


Airborne Drones products stable, which includes the Vanguard, were designed from the outset to provide industrial strength solutions to industry. Its inherent design philosophy includes a growing number of onboard products to complete the ecosystem required for the effective deployment of drones. This also incorporates features that meet the exacting Off-shore Oil Rig platforms of our Oil and Gas customers.

Drone inspection for Offshore Oilrigs
Advantages of Vanguard for Offshore Oilrig inspection

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