December 31, 2018 [Forbes] - The use of drones, in the oil and gas industry, is growing and the technology is ready to take off in a big way. It offers benefits to oil and gas operations in a numerous ways— safe and efficient maintenance and inspections among them—but the data that UAS technology provides is transforming the industry.
Despite recent bad press following the flight disruption at London’s Gatwick Airport Unmanned Aerial Platforms, or drones as they are more commonly called, have a vital role to play in industry. The use of drones, in the oil and gas industry, is growing and the technology is ready to take off in a big way. It offers benefits to oil and gas operations in a numerous ways— safe and efficient maintenance and inspections among them—but the data that UAS technology provides is transforming the industry.
“Oil and gas companies will continue to explore new technologies and digitize their operations, especially as crude prices have fallen in recent months,” Renner Vaughn, Cape’s director of oil and gas, explains. “Remote vehicles, including UAVs and underwater ROVs, will be operationalized, as enterprises get beyond the testing phases and begin to realize the safety advantages, the time saved on asset inspections and the situational awareness that live aerial video can provide.”
One of the most significant benefits of drones in the field to date has been their ability to improve safety in the field. As tools used to support and enhance emergency response and recovery, drones can provide live situational awareness during fires, spills, and other emergencies. Additionally, drones are enabling companies to safely and efficiently assess, monitor, and manage assets. This includes conducting routine inspections and providing real-time visibility into systems and sites that were once a challenge to view, fix, and maintain.
“With the ability to remotely pilot drones from anywhere in the world, whether onshore or off, operators can much more easily and quickly inspect well sites, pipelines, storage tanks, and offshore platforms, giving the right experts all the benefits of a first-person viewpoint, without the safety risks or time and cost required to manually traveling onsite,” Vaughn explains. “For example, operators can deploy drones to get visibility on an alarm situation before sending a field operator out, helping them to more quickly get eyes on the situation while also keeping personnel out of a potentially dangerous situation.
“Additionally, the remote visibility offered through the drones can slash the costs of managing large-scale facility builds, minimizing timelines for approvals and drastically reducing costs previously required for travel, ensuring time, resources, and personnel are dedicated to more impactful areas of work.”
Drones provide a new and unmatched level of visibility and accessibility, both for operators in the field and for offsite experts around the world. Traditionally, visibility around oil and gas sites required manual, cost-and time-intensive, and inefficient methods. From lease operators physically driving out to inspect well sites, to deploying a helicopter to offshore platforms, inspections came with heavy resource requirements and often steep safety risks.
“Drones enable operators and experts to get complete, up-close, and real-time visualization into assets from anywhere in the world, for a fraction of the cost of traditional methods, and without the physical constraints or budget constraints,” Vaughn adds. “Additionally, access to real-time data and video footage allows subject matter experts to instantly assess assets in need of repair, without having to wait until post-inspection.
Today, drones can be fitted with several payloads that enable faster and more accurate decisions for organizations across industries. From software like the Cape Aerial Telepresence that allows for easy remote operation of the drone from anywhere in the world and the ability to live stream the video to up to 50 credentialed users, to the use of thermal sensors and cameras to detect tank levels or potential issues, drones are unlocking a new level of information and insight never possible.
“The realm of possibilities for drone integration in oil in gas is quite literally sky high,” Vaughn concludes. “Widespread adoption of commercial drones, whether onshore or off, will require solutions that are both safe and easy to use,” Vaughn concludes. “In the future, we’ll see a focus on integrations to further enhance the capabilities of drones. From gas detection sensors and advanced thermal imaging to autonomous flights, additional integrations and payloads will exponentially increase the value that drones already offer.
“We’re already applying machine learning and AI capabilities to drones to help detect cues in video feeds, for example, and enable operators to automatically adjust systems based on those cues.”
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