Drones to transform oil & gas pipeline inspection
In the oil and gas industry, regular inspections are mandatory and essential for the continued operation of a pipeline system. However, they come with their own set of problems. Apart from safety concerns, carrying out regular inspections is quite expensive. Also, inspections take time as pipelines usually run through terrains that are difficult to navigate.
Oil and gas companies have started using drones for pipeline inspection and data collection in order to overcome these limitations. Drones provide a non-intrusive method to inspect the pipelines and their surrounding environment. Moreover, it is a cost-effective solution compared to the other options available in the market. Drones can also cover large areas of diverse terrains with ease.
Drones reduce pipeline inspection costs
Regular and periodic inspections ensure that the pipelines are safe. However, certain factors like location, equipment, weather, etc. make such regular inspection processes time-consuming and expensive. In addition to this, some problems require the direct intervention of humans, which can cause further delays in maintenance. In such cases, drones present themselves as a viable and cost-effective solution to the maintenance woes faced by the oil and gas companies.
With the help of cameras, drone operators can easily assess oil and gas pipeline integrity and decide on maintenance operations. Furthermore, drones can be installed with other sensors and tools that provide operators with a more comprehensive view of the pipeline’s integrity. These added functionalities allow operators to be more proactive in scheduling maintenance activities. Moreover, the data collected can be used to predict future maintenance and inspection times. This predictive approach to pipeline maintenance and inspection helps reduce failures and improve plant uptime.
ULC Robotics provides a wide range of services to the energy, utility, and industrial markets, including drone inspections for the oil and gas industry. The drones can be used for right-of-way surveying, aerial leak detection, and to carry out emergency responses. They are equipped with special sensors and customized visual imaging tools to gather valuable pipeline data. The data collected during inspection flights can be easily integrated into the existing GIS systems. The drones can also carry out autonomous inspection flights, making drone inspection activities safer and more streamlined.
Canada-based SkyX’s vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) drone was specifically designed for pipeline inspections, surveillance, and mapping. Their proprietary SkyOne drones are capable of carrying out various inspections like hydrocarbon leak verification, corrosion detection, and third-party disruptions. The company has also designed remote waystations where the drones can recharge before flying out again. The drone can fly for 70 minutes at an average speed of 90 miles an hour on a full charge. The data collected during inspections is directly integrated into the existing GIS applications to make data collection and analysis easier and faster. The SkyX is designed to function perfectly at a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions, making it the ideal partner for any pipeline inspector.
Reduced risks and improved response times
Although pipelines are the fastest and most cost-effective option for oil and gas transportation, they are also prone to failures. There have been over 600 injuries and 125 fatalities due to pipeline failures in the last decade alone. These numbers are partly due to the failure of companies to adhere to proper regulations. But another important reason is the slow response time between receiving an alert and deploying the necessary people to deal with the problem.
Drones help improve response times by a considerable amount. When an alert comes in, drones can be immediately deployed to assess the situation, empowering the operator with the information they need to make informed decisions on the next steps. They also eliminate risk to the maintenance staff as inspections are conducted from the safety of the control center. Moreover, deploying drones at short notice is considerably cheaper compared to using helicopters and other vehicles.
Terra Drone is a Tokyo-based drone start-up that has quickly grown to become a leading provider of industrial drone solutions in the world. They enable oil and gas companies to inspect assets that are difficult or dangerous for humans to access. Companies can use their drones for a variety of applications like visual inspection, 3D modeling, and ultrasonic thickness measurement. In February 2021, Terra Drone developed an “intelligent drone plan” in association with INPEX, Japan’s leading energy company. They aim to automate the inspection process with the help of drones and promote digital transformation in their day-to-day operations.
Since 2013, Vision Aerial has built unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for various industrial applications, including pipeline inspections. The drones are designed for durability and reliability. They can carry various other sensors and tools that empower the operator to detect anomalies and prevent failures before they occur. The drones are easy to use and can be deployed almost instantaneously. In fact, operators can become trained pilots with just 4 hours of training. Moreover, the tools and sensors can be replaced or customized to suit the need of the mission.
The future of drones in pipeline inspection
The drone industry has a bright future ahead. Among the myriad of applications for drones, pipeline inspection is just one. They allow pipeline operators to be proactive in their decision-making processes. They also assist maintenance workers by providing them with a better understanding of the problem at hand. The unique insight provided by the drones into pipeline functions is invaluable to the continued operation of the pipeline.
To handle such vast amounts of data, companies need to consider a hybrid model where they outsource some operations like data management, drone maintenance, drone piloting, etc. to third-party vendors while maintaining other functions like data analysis under their roof.
Furthermore, it is important to note that there is a lot of hype surrounding drone usage, which can skew perceptions for better or for worse. Companies often make unrealistic promises to clients who ask for solutions that are not commercially viable. Drone providers need to learn to maintain client expectations, deliver real value, and ensure the continued growth of the industry.