Using automated industrial drones to improve safety in oil & gas

Louise Smyth

No one in the oil and gas sector needs to be told that the potential for disaster is immense. Relatedly, no one in that industry needs to be told how essential inspections are. What those in the industry may be open to hear, however, is how markedly automated industrial drones can improve those inspections and increase safety for employees as well as the public at large. 

Automated industrial drones are designed with end-to-end automation that allows them to launch and fly on-demand or scheduled missions without needing a pilot and incurring the large expense that accompanies one. These drowns can undertake all data collection, landing, and even routine maintenance like power supply management and sensor and payload changing. There are many oil and gas drone services that have the potential to benefit the industry in significant ways, but there are perhaps no oil and gas drone services more impactful than automated inspections.

Chimney and flare stack inspections with no risk and no shutdowns

The technology that goes into burning off waste gas is simple, but the management of chimneys flare stacks is anything but. A small crack can transform a stack pipe into a blowtorch, one that has the potential to cost human lives, not to mention millions in damages. Flare stacks need to be regularly and rigorously inspected, but doing so has traditionally involved sending human inspectors up scaffolding with cable safety restraints in place. Additionally, this slow and laborious inspection can only take place after part of the plant has been shut down and the stacks have fully cooled. All told, it can take days or even weeks to return to normal operations.

Having an automated industrial drone do the inspections instead can reduce or even eliminate those shutdowns. More importantly, it also keeps workers from being exposed to the serious risks that can accompany them. With an automated industrial drone, flare stack inspections can be easily and quickly accomplished with minimal impact on operations, allowing these inspections to be performed more thoroughly and more often, thereby increasing the overall safety of this major component of oil and gas operations.

Visual inspection of oil and gas storage tanks is also a slow and laborious process that is fraught with the potential for error because areas of tanks susceptible to corrosion and rust often can’t be seen by the human eye. 

Automated industrial drones greatly speed up the process by allowing engineers to perform high-definition inspections without traveling to the site and manoeuvering around these often cumbersomely large assets. Automated industrial drones with multisensory capability can also deliver both digital imagery and thermal imagery, allowing engineers and inspectors to identify issues like solar loading and water accumulation in addition to identifying potential damage or weak points. 

Easy and time-efficient pipeline monitoring

Not only do oil and gas pipelines have all the high-stakes potential for disaster that most oil and gas infrastructure does, but they’re also long-range assets that present a logistical nightmare for firms trying to keep a close eye on the health of their pipelines. Fortunately, automated industrial drones offer the most efficient solution possible for pipeline monitoring.

Automated industrial drones are capable of flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights to inspect long-range infrastructure without allowing for any possibility of human error. They can quickly and cost-effectively inspect pipelines for rust, corrosion and pitting while also using thermal imagery to assess the distribution of natural gas through a pipeline. They can also provide high-definition imagery of pipeline routes to allow inspectors to identify any potential leaks or defects in pipeline insulation that are leading to changes in vegetation. Thermal imagery can also detect hot spots on a pipeline. The advantages these drones offer to pipeline monitoring are simply immense.

Oil & gas and the aerial imagery from drones

Oil & gas is a sector that has been in dire need of a way to make those essential inspections most cost-and time-efficient. Automated industrial drones are inarguably the answer. These drones are a solution that eliminates or at the very least reduces shutdowns, allows high-definition visualization of all aspects of assets and infrastructure, including areas human inspectors could not access, and quickly assess long-range infrastructure for issues that could become devastating if not detected. Most importantly, they protect human lives, most notably the lives of personnel who would otherwise be tasked with inspecting these hazardous areas. Aerial imagery will help the oil & gas industry reach new heights indeed.