Drones Offer “Safety Boon” For Energy Companies
Energy companies often conduct aerial monitoring in remote locations, sometimes under dangerous flying conditions and aerial drones offer a cost-effective alternative that is also safer for pilots and inspection crews.
In the Alaskan tundra, inspecting a pipeline isn’t easy. Most pipelines don’t follow what few roads are there, so trucks often aren’t an option. And using low-flying airplanes can be unsafe to pilots in snowy, windy weather.
Now, though, the emergence of sophisticated, pilotless aircraft is presenting energy companies with another possibility for keeping an eye on operations in the Arctic and other harsh environments where they often work.
Unmanned aerial vehicles flying over pipelines while outfitted with special sensors could detect leaks quickly. And that’s not the only potential application.
Energy companies are testing drones to inspect hard-to-reach spaces like refinery flare stacks, offshore platforms and even wind turbine blades in an effort to save time and boost worker safety.
As the Federal Aviation Administration develops rules that will govern the devices, oil and gas companies around the world are on the forefront, working closely with the drone industry to test the unmanned aircraft.
Some in the energy sector say it’s only a matter of time before unmanned aerial vehicles become a common – and even integral – part of their business.
“It’s coming,” said Curt Smith, a director at BP’s chief technology office, which is in Houston. “The question is how long will it take.”
The U.S. government has used unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, for decades. But the technology caught increased intention with the development in the 1990s of the iconic Predator drone, which has been used in hotspots like Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen.
Now interest is growing in drones for commercial purposes.
“It follows the great tradition of penicillin, radar, radios and GPS – you see technology grounded and developed in the military, and now it’s poised to do so much more in the commercial sense,” said Ian Glenn, CEO of ING Robotic Aviation, a Canadian seller of drones and drone-based inspection services.
He expects the oil and gas sector to be a major client.
BP has tested a small drone to see if it can carry cameras and sensors that are used to detect weak spots and leaks in pipelines.
“It’s about how you can make people safer in an industrial environment and take them out of dangerous situations,” Roberts said. “It’s a fantastic boon for safety.”
Source: Houston Chronicle