How robots reduce safety hazards in offshore O&G pipelines
Robotic Solutions for Safer and Efficient Pipeline Operations
Oil & Gas (O&G) pipelines installed decades ago have been difficult to inspect and maintain. The workers have to deal with harsh environments or climates when working with pipelines, which can be expensive, claustrophobic, and sometimes dangerous. In the last 20 years, nearly 300 pipeline incidents have occurred, including explosions, fires, and leaks, causing 12 deaths and more than 55 injuries. The total cost of these incidents was over $800 million per year. According to a recent research report, companies investing in robotics to facilitate offshore pipeline operations will gain a competitive advantage in the upcoming years.
Despite being the safest mode of transport, cases of pipeline hazards still happen. When these hazards occur, they cause catastrophic consequences as these pipelines transport hazardous products such as chemicals, highly volatile liquids, anhydrous ammonia, or carbon dioxide. The pipeline hazard risks depend on the product type, size of the pipeline, natural environment, and operating pressure of the pipeline, as well as the population and natural resources near the pipeline. The release of products causes injuries or fatalities and can impact the environment. Hazardous liquids can cause fire or explosion, causing damage to property and life. Oil spills can harm human health and contaminate drinking water supplies. If the workers or nearby population inhale harmful gases, it can cause skin and breathing problems.
How are robots alleviating hazards in the pipeline sector?
Robots have undeniably increased safety in the O&G sector. They have been drawing attention as a core instrument to inspect the critical pipelines in the O&G industry. Inspecting pipelines can be costly, and the increasing need for Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) standards is increasing the cost of deployment. With autonomous robots, companies can lower the inspection costs. Moreover, inspections can often occur in remote locations where human access is difficult or constricted. With robots, dangerous tasks such as identifying the structural integrity of remote pipelines can be done far more easily. Similarly, robots can assist in detecting internal flaws in a pipeline. From designing to managing operational tasks, these advanced systems can detect defects, corrosion, material aging, and poor quality, and analyze the chances of geological disasters.
Robots can also help in risk assessment by analyzing and comparing the reasons for previous hazards and the current data collected from inspections. A large Middle Eastern O&G exploration company reported that using robots for asset-integrity inspection is highly beneficial in terms of the safety of workers, time, and operational cost savings. The study also included the use of robotic technology for underwater inspection and maintenance, minimizing workers’ need to enter into vessels, improving the safety risk profiles of a site and potential environmental impact, and achieving efficient inspections with high-quality data.
The application of robots in the O&G pipelines
Magna is a submarine pipeline inspection robot developed by Tracerco company. It is an ROV-deployable robot that can inspect 360 degrees around the pipeline, giving real-time information about the material’s condition at a high-speed.
AURI, developed by a collaboration between PETROBRASS/A and the Catholic University of Rio de Janeirois, is a pipeline inspection robot developed to locate defects in a pipeline and prevent leaks caused by corrosion.
FSWbot is a robot developed for internal fault detection and repair purposes. It detects the leaks and automatically positions itself to perform the repair.
Furthermore, several notable examples in the industry highlight the advancements made in robotic solutions for offshore O&G pipelines. For instance, the world’s first subsea pipeline repair robot, Nautilus, co-developed by Rovula and Kongsberg Ferrotech, along with Eelume, developed by a spinoff of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, have emerged as pioneering technologies. Additionally, Axora has also developed underwater inspection robots, further demonstrating the progress being made in this field. These robots can assess, clean, and repair subsea pipes in a single operation without requiring any human help. Nautilis can go 150 m under the sea to perform an NDT scan to detect and repair defects. Similarly, Eelume is a robotic arm to carry out inspections and monitor repairs in pipelines in places where ROVs find it difficult to reach. Axora develops underwater inspection robots with a flexible design to travel long underwater distances for inspection, maintenance, and repair.
In the past few years, the demand for robotics has been increasing as it has fully automated the pipeline processes. There has been an increasing number of accidents caused in the pipelines in the past years, which has also led the companies to explore robotics. Companies can utilize autonomous robots for various pipeline inspection, repair, and monitoring functions, depending on the specific use case. Robotics technology enables the safe deployment of inspections in severe conditions that are challenging for humans to reach. It can secure human lives and detect possible flaws that can occur inside the pipelines.
Many innovations are still under development that will further improve the inspection, maintenance, and repair processes in several ways. In the upcoming years, companies will need to adopt these innovations and technologies to boost productivity, improve cost-efficiency, and upgrade safety even more.