DRONES in Oil and Gas Industry: 6 areas to make a difference. 

In the Oil and Gas industry, critical functions are:

  1. asset management and monitoring to assess production performance, 
  2. environmental and safety compliance, 
  3. overall integrity and other factors. 

While the needs are straightforward, the complexities, risks and scale involved are immense:

  1. pipelines span thousands of miles, 
  2. manufacturing facilities offer potential exposure to hazardous chemicals, 
  3. and production platforms are often remote, for example, in deep water and arctic environments. 

Maintenance, integrity and surveillance activities are costly to plan and execute, and must be done routinely to avoid leaks, production outages and unplanned shutdowns.
UAVs offer an attractive complement to conventional approaches to facility management, there are even greater untapped opportunities for cost savings through activities such as 

  1. automated data gathering, 
  2. automated maintenance, integrity and surveillance workflow, 
  3. and data analysis to generate predictive insights on facilities. 

These insights can be used to drive operational decisions and improve business processes, such as 

  • shortening lead time to problem detection or
  • predictive maintenance in industries with field force operations.

Making a difference in the oil industry

Decrease costs. A UAV can be used to automate simple tasks and therefore reduce labour costs. For example, aerial inspection of pipelines using helicopters costs approximately $3,000 for an hour of operations. UAVs have the potential to reduce these costs significantly while providing better accuracy through the use of multiple sensors on the same platforms.
Reduce safety exposure. In areas that have been exposed to contamination or are potential security threats, UAVs enable organizations to explore these areas and even deliver supplies without exposing employees to the associated risks. (Read more about the dangers of methane gas leaks..) For example, UAVs were used in Fukushima to assess the nuclear reactor damage.
Increase production. In the energy sector keeping refineries and rigs up and running ensures the flow of product to customers. UAVs can be used to avoid unnecessary shut-downs or reduce the disruption to operations— which keep oil and gas moving.

Signs are that that UAVs are poised to become the next major disruption to impact the oil and gas industry.

Already causing major shifts in other industries, oil and gas could be the next target of drone technology with British Petroleum (BP) being issued the first commercial permit for drone use on US soil. The estimated impact of drone technology in any language is expected to Billions in the years to come.

Until now, methods of surveying, detecting, and locating leaks in the oil and gas fields have been inefficient and costly to conduct. Workers have risked their lives to climb high-rising stacks and inspections have caused lengthy activity shutdowns. Drones are a cost effective and safe solution to all of these problems.

Six (6) Areas in the Oil and Gas industry

Drones in oil and gas flare stack inspections
Flare stack

Obtain detailed visuals of flare stack heads where fast flight control responsiveness is critical. Without the need to climb the stacks, risk to personnel is eliminated and production time is left uninterrupted. Even inspect the flare stacks while in production, which saves money. Avoiding a shutdown can save more than $4 million. Repairs and maintenance are no longer costly and time consuming. Drones can capture in five days using a drone could take eight weeks with human inspectors.

Drones in Oil and gas pipeline inspections

Drones have become the most economical type of platform for the inspection of the thousands of miles of pipelines transporting oil and gas around the world. These infrastructures must constantly be monitored to reduce the potential for undetected leaks, which in the past have caused life threatening fires and explosions. With thermal imaging the temperature differences between fluid and soil can be picked up easily and oil and gas leaks detected. Hovering at low altitudes over the pipelines with special cameras and sensors, operators can send information to the assessor showing the pipe’s condition.

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Drones in oil and gas offshore platforms

 Working offshore complicates inspecting oil platforms, and puts workers at a higher risk. Lengthy shutdowns can damage efficiency and operations are forced to go offline. Converting business operations to using drones can help minimize these complications. Send real-time information to the operator on the rig while flying within meters of the offshore platform. HD video and still imagery can be provided from all angles – vital information that can be used to assess and plan necessary work in advance.

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tailings pond inspection
Tailings pond

Currently safety checks on tailings ponds are done in person or expensive fly-over inspections that require endless safety precautions. Using drones for this application makes gathering information in dangerous environments possible and extreme weather conditions no longer have to be a barrier to carrying out such inspections.

Oil spill and damage detection
Oil spill

Drones are ideally suited to help avoid the massive damage that can result from oil spills. With the use of the right sensors drones can be used to measure and quantify oil spills, with the ability to assess where the oil is spreading, how quickly it is moving in the water and the specific areas it has reached. This real-time information can determine where to send response vessels and recovers time previously spent on the process of damage detection.

Monitoring gas emissions
Gas emissions

The highly sensitive optical sensors that are available with drones can help monitor gas emissions over critical sites and large areas that are otherwise difficult to cover. They make surveying, identifying and correcting leaks a manageable task and with nearly 500,000 hydraulically fractured gas wells across the U.S., this task is critical. Drones help reduce the cost of carrying out such inspections and allow safe 3D mapping of drill sites, gas pipelines, landfills and other municipal operations.

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