From 3D laser mapping to identifying pipeline corrosion and checking well pads, refineries and chemical plants, the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is on the rise, both onshore and off.
Drones get bad press. They’re often seen only as weapons of war or as a potential danger to aircraft. However, they are emerging as an important tool for better and safer inspections in the oil and gas industry, both on and offshore.
Checking Pipelines with Cameras and Sensors
Drones can check pipelines, infrastructure, transmission lines and entire facilities for explosion risks without exposing safety officers to the dangers of on-site visits. Sky-Futures, PrecisionHawk, Cyberhawk Innovations and Xamen Technologies are the primary pioneers in this field.
Cyberhawk’s ROAV (remotely operated aerial vehicle) contains a high-definition still and video camera, as well as a thermal camera. PrecisionHawk’s vehicle also has methane sensors for monitoring air quality, smoke plumes or traces of gas or vapor. PrecisionHawk currently uses WiFi, but cellular connectivity is coming later in 2016. Most drones are ‘dumb’, sending images and data to a cloud platform for analysis.
Accessing Dangerous Areas
In addition to saving time, drones enable close-up inspections in dangerous and hard-to-reach areas. Philip Buchan is commercial director at Cyberhawk, which conducted the very first ROAV industrial inspection in 2010. The company has completed many projects for major oil and gas companies around the world:
[Drones] eliminate the need for personnel to work at height, in difficult-to-access areas and on live assets.
In January 2016, Sky-Futures completed the first-ever industry drone inspection in the Gulf of Mexico. Its examination of a derrick, heli-deck and four cranes on a drill ship was completed in two days rather than the usual 17, according to Sky-Futures. Meanwhile, Xamen is aiming its LE 4-8X Dual ATEX drone at oil tankers, liquid natural gas (LNG) carriers and the industrial chemicals sector.