Drones represent a swiftly advancing technology, finding adoption across various industries, including the oil and gas sector. The global market for drones in this industry is projected to soar to a value of 16.72 billion USD by 2025, displaying an impressive compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.24% from 2019 to 2025.
Back in 2013, BP achieved a milestone by becoming the first oil and gas company to obtain a license for drone operations. Following suit, other major players in the industry, such as ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Equinor, and Gazprom, have embraced drone technology.
The exponential growth of drones in oil and gas can be attributed to their remarkable ability to digitize and optimize oil platform operations. Over the past decade, these companies have effectively harnessed the mobility and perspective offered by drones to drive innovation in workflows and cost-saving measures.
This article will delve into five key benefits of utilizing drones in oil and gas operations: enhanced safety and efficiency during inspections, improved leak detection capabilities, reduced asset maintenance costs, strengthened emergency response procedures, and more precise data collection methods.
Enhanced Safety and Efficiency in Inspections
Inspecting oil wells and offshore rigs used to be a perilous task, involving surveyors climbing tall ladders, walking along catwalks, operating large cranes, and rappelling down great heights with harnesses. These traditional methods exposed personnel to harmful chemicals and dangerous equipment, making oil inspections exceptionally hazardous. However, the introduction of drones has revolutionized the inspection process, significantly enhancing safety.
Drones now offer a safer alternative by eliminating the need for personnel to be in harm’s way. With the ability to fly to great heights and navigate through toxic chemicals effortlessly, drones take over the inspection duties, reducing the risk to human workers.
Furthermore, drone inspections bring unparalleled speed to the process. While traditional oil and gas inspections used to take several days to complete, drones can swiftly fly directly to the target upon command. They perform comprehensive checks with precision, all without necessitating the shutdown of operations. Additionally, drones excel at accessing hard-to-reach areas, be it an oil and gas site, pipeline, storage tank, or offshore platform. For instance, they can easily fly to inspect overhead pipes, flames, flares, and smokestacks.
From upstream to downstream stages of petroleum production, drones offer meticulous inspections, providing a close-eyed view of critical components that benefits the entire industry.
Drones have significantly improved inspection capabilities, thanks to their cutting-edge cameras. The advanced features of drone cameras enable them to capture high-quality images and record videos with remarkable clarity. Unlike conventional methods, drone cameras can zoom in on specific areas without compromising the image quality, providing unmatched detail in their visual output.
Moreover, drones can integrate various types of cameras and sensors, empowering them to conduct multiple tests during a single flight. Equipped with thermal infrared cameras, these drones excel at thermal imaging, while also facilitating temperature, chemical, and measurement analysis through specialized sensors. Furthermore, some drones are designed with omnidirectional obstacle avoidance sensors, ensuring they can navigate safely and avoid potential crashes, thus safeguarding your site from damage.
The synergy between these advanced cameras and sensors enables drones to conduct comprehensive inspections at unprecedented speeds, revolutionizing the efficiency and accuracy of the entire inspection process.
Enhanced Leak Detection Capabilities
Methane leaks from the US oil and natural gas supply account for a significant 2.3% of the country’s total gas production, resulting in the loss of 13 million metric tons of methane annually. This represents not only a substantial supply chain inefficiency but also poses a grave risk to nearby communities and the environment.
In the past, oil and gas companies attempted to detect leaks using fixed detectors placed at high-risk locations within facilities and along pipelines. Additionally, inspectors would periodically check areas using portable detectors. However, these conventional leak detection methods often proved to be both costly and inefficient.
Drone-based leak detection offers unmatched speed and comprehensiveness. An excellent illustration of this is their ability to effortlessly identify spills and corrosion in flare stacks positioned at great heights. By swiftly reaching these challenging locations, drones enable more frequent inspections, reducing potential clean-up costs by up to 90%.
Beyond that, drones play a crucial role in preventing structural collapses and addressing potential issues before they endanger workers and facilities. For instance, in oil wells, along with oil, saltwater (produced water) is pumped up as a byproduct of oil extraction, requiring proper separation and disposal. Unfortunately, saltwater leaks are not uncommon, but drones proactively detect such leaks, mitigating the risk of serious damage.
By utilizing drones for leak detection, companies can bolster their safety measures, prevent environmental hazards, and significantly reduce operational risks, ultimately leading to more efficient and cost-effective operations.
Cost-Effective Asset Maintenance with Drones
Embracing faster, safer, and proactive drone inspections undoubtedly leads to substantial cost savings in asset maintenance. Drones have the potential to save companies millions of dollars in maintenance expenses by implementing more efficient practices.
For instance, drones significantly reduce the reliance on scaffolding and other temporary structures for inspections, resulting in considerable time and budget savings. The elimination of these requirements streamlines the process and enhances cost-effectiveness.
Moreover, the ability of drones to conduct inspections without the need to shut down oil operations is a game-changer. Traditional methods often necessitate shutting off flare stacks and boiler tanks days in advance for human inspection, incurring downtime and lost profits. However, drones can swiftly and safely inspect facilities and assets without any disruption to operations, allowing oil platforms to operate continuously and optimize production time.
Drones also prove to be a cost-effective solution by minimizing labor expenses. Their rapid spot checks can reduce inspection time by up to 80%, translating to fewer working hours and requiring fewer personnel. Additionally, the need to bring in external surveyors, along with the associated travel costs, is significantly reduced.
Incorporating drones into asset maintenance strategies empowers companies to cut down on expenses while maximizing efficiency, ultimately contributing to a more financially sustainable and profitable operation.
Incorporating drones into your operations not only reduces manual labor but also helps cut down health-related costs significantly. By minimizing dangerous tasks that often lead to injuries, you can lower health insurance premiums and expenses related to personal protective equipment (PPE). Fewer workplace accidents translate to fewer reports to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), ensuring smoother, uninterrupted operations.
With less exposure to hazards, employees are less likely to suffer from injuries, allowing you to regain work hours lost to accidents. The overall improvement in safety not only safeguards your workforce but also enhances productivity.
Moreover, by streamlining maintenance processes and reducing costs, drones enable you to allocate more resources to conduct frequent aerial inspections. The more regularly you perform these inspections, the better equipped you are to detect and prevent potential costly damages.
In essence, drones serve as a versatile and efficient cost-saving tool, positively impacting your bottom line by enhancing safety, optimizing maintenance expenses, and promoting a more resilient and productive operation.
Rapid and Effective Emergency Response with Drones
In the face of natural disasters or mechanical blowouts, having a well-planned emergency response strategy is crucial. Drones offer invaluable assistance in responding swiftly and efficiently to such critical situations. Unlike manned aircraft, which require a pilot and lead time for readiness, drones can be deployed instantly, saving precious time when disaster strikes.
Drones have already proven their worth during tank fires, demonstrating their ability to withstand extreme temperatures. Their thermal resilience makes them ideal for monitoring the progression of fires. By livestreaming real-time information to responders, drones provide crucial insights, including precise locations of holes in tanks. This allows firefighter hose teams to direct their foam spray accurately and effectively. Furthermore, drones continue to monitor the foam blanket’s integrity, enabling responders to gauge the need for reapplication as older foam breaks down.
With their swift deployment, heat resistance, and remote monitoring capabilities, drones play a pivotal role in emergency response efforts. They equip responders with valuable information, enhance decision-making, and ultimately contribute to more effective and efficient disaster management.
Drones play a vital role in ensuring emergency response equipment is strategically positioned during critical incidents. After a fire subsides, drones equipped with thermal cameras can assess remaining tank levels, providing valuable insights into total losses, making them an invaluable asset in responding to tank fires.
In the event of oil spill disasters, drones offer effective mitigation solutions. The Deep Water Horizon marine oil spill, recorded as the worst in history, spilled a staggering 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and its surroundings. Drones equipped with high-quality cameras can swiftly locate and assess the impact of a spill, providing responders with real-time photos, live video streams, and precise GPS coordinates. With long-lasting batteries, drones can stay airborne for hours, aiding continuous monitoring and assessment efforts.
Additionally, drones are instrumental in evaluating containment efforts by creating before and after maps, enabling the identification of lingering oil slicks and guiding cleanup concentration.
More Accurate Data Collection
Moreover, drones surpass humans, planes, and helicopters in data collection capabilities. Their ability to approach infrastructure closely allows for better data collection, detecting trends that may go unnoticed by humans. The wide range of cameras and sensors equipped in drones further enhances data accuracy, generating detailed and valuable visuals.
The synergy of advanced drone technologies significantly broadens the scope and value of the data they provide, offering unparalleled insights for better decision-making and more efficient emergency response efforts.
Drones offer a remarkable advantage by providing information at a faster pace. By uploading data to the cloud, drones enable quick and real-time processing, making mapping software capable of generating topographical and geological models to identify promising oil and gas drill sites. Analytical software further aids in refining past performance, while live drone footage facilitates collaborative brainstorming for optimal decision-making.
One of the most significant advantages of drones is the ability to calibrate repeat missions using visual machine learning algorithms. This eliminates the manual process of configuring flight routes for each drone use. Through artificial intelligence, drones can learn and execute regular, automatic spot checks, and routine data collection. Consistently repeating the exact same inspection over time ensures data accuracy and precision.
Embarking on a Journey with Drones in Oil and Gas
Drones hold immense potential for the future of the oil and gas industry, yet many companies are yet to fully embrace their capabilities. Nonetheless, drones are already revolutionizing oil operations by enhancing efficiency and effectiveness.
If you seek to integrate drones into your oil operations, The Drone Life stands ready to assist. Our seasoned drone pilots possess years of experience in flying various missions. Together, we can identify inefficiencies in your workflows, leading to valuable time and cost savings for your company. Schedule your free consultation today and unlock the transformative power of drones in your oil and gas endeavors.