Oil Pipeline Security and Monitoring using Drones and Robots

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August 25, 2022


AI / Drones / Oil & Gas


Oil Pipeline Security and Monitoring using Drones and Robots

Oil pipelines and their relevant infrastructures are located onshore and offshore, meaning rugged terrains that vary between hot deserts to frozen zones and even marshlands. The total length of oil pipelines exceeds thousands of kilometers (km) in meeting the growing demands for oil across the nation. Similarly, there is a need for frequent inspection for maintenance and ensuring safety standards. Existing methods to monitor complex regions by shutting down activities and manual inspection of the hazardous areas with cameras are costly, and issues related to shutting down for more extended periods and potential risks for the person investigating in such areas.

Due to the contribution of technologies like artificial intelligence and computer vision, drones and robots have evolved with advanced image processing capabilities, making them the proper technological integration for monitoring and security to navigate through long pipelines that are spread out across harsher terrains.

Drone and Robot Uses for Oil Pipeline Monitoring

The emergence of drones and robots for monitoring has become more simplified. With automation, these technologies have been identified to be cost-effective and efficient in monitoring activities. Drones can mitigate the risks of the unpredictability of opting for inspection in a hostile environment and offer aerial surveying and monitoring possibilities at ease. Similarly, robots can assist field workers in hazardous environments and provide maintenance and operational services, including performing underwater. The fusion of drones and robotics can simplify critical oil pipeline monitoring such as aerial inspection for leakage and spills, safety and evacuation monitoring in case of emergencies, routine inspection for uninterrupted operations, and the critical aspects of security such as surveillance and intrusion alerts. The key areas that are targeted by drone technology and robotics are hereunder.

Offshore and Onshore

The offshore and onshore inspection activities are also known as the upstreaming process, confined to the production phase. This phase consists of endless inspection and maintenance activities, surveying large areas for potential oil rigs, and numerous security and surveillance activities. At times, the regions that have to be inspected are located in hostile environments, making it a risky task to be carried out efficiently. Some of the potential areas that drones and robotic solutions can replace are manual surveying and mapping regions, security and emergency alerts, robotics-based underwater welding, remote operation vehicles for maintenance and operational tasks, robotic surveillance, and detection of rusted portions of the oil wells that are submerged in the water. UAVs (Unmanned Automated Vehicle) with sensors can be deployed to provide real-time feedback on the desired location. Simultaneously, drones play a crucial role in drilling phases to provide aerial monitoring feedback of the entire location and the infrastructures such as robotic arms used for drilling. Production phases also require constant quality checks to ensure no leaks and all processes meet the quality standards. Therefore, drones can help operators to detect these activities without any hassles.

Midstream Process

It is a well-known fact that pipelines extend to the most remote locations where human accessibility becomes limited. However, the need for periodic inspection and maintenance is a never-ending requirement. As these pipelines are far from the accessible location, constant monitoring becomes crucial to ensure no risky leakage points pooling liquid or dirt collection from external sources or significant damages due to any natural calamity. Besides, these regions may suffer from intruders looking to conduct unfair trades by causing havoc and damaging the pipelines. Drones equipped with additional sensor and optical mechanisms are ideal for monitoring pipelines in these locations, while UAVs can provide data from the ground. Infrared and thermal imaging techniques can be incorporated into drones to detect possible leakage areas leading to early maintenance to prevent explosions in the pipelines. Some of the critical areas in this process include surveying, pipeline inspection and leakage detection, corrosion monitoring and preventive measure inspection, and underwater leakage repairs.

Downstream Process

Downstream processes are all-inclusive of refinery and petrochemical-based activities of hazardous nature. It is often set up around complex environments, and often people working in such places have serious health problems in later stages. Robotic technical injection into the inspection process using drone and UAVs solve a large part of the monitoring challenges in a hazardous environment. The refinery infrastructures consist of challenging areas, namely chimney stacks, cooling vents, storage facilities, ducting, to name a few. These problematic areas can find the aerial capabilities of drones to be a boon as they can capture crucial information from the hazardous zones of the refinery plant with absolute accuracy. Such technical provisions reduce time and expenditure for conducting these procedures while eliminating exposure to life-threatening chemicals and hazardous substances. Simultaneously,
the quality of inspection data is accurate, and high quality considering the next-generation image capture techniques and the possibility of closer look up at the areas as drones can fly nearer to the asset. Some of the vital procedures in a downstream process include pipeline inspection for leakage and corrosion, surveillance of the petrochemical tasks, and constant monitoring and live reports of the ongoing activities in the refinery.

Current Drone and Robotic Solutions for Oil Pipeline Monitoring

As the mechanisms of the oil industries evolve, more significant challenges are faced in its maintenance and supervision. Traditionally, the oil industry has been slow starters in adopting technical solutions in its operational activities. In contrast, the technology industry continues to experience a digital transformation with state-of-the-art technologies coming to the fore. The automated solutions and processing and image insights and processing of more explicit images have become the ultimate solution for their challenges. Ideally, a hazardous industry as petroleum has always required such technological innovations, and now is the opportune moment to gain the maximum benefit out of these innovative technologies today.

Airobotics provides a cost-effective and safer approach towards inspection with closer monitoring and control of the pipelines. The drone technology service offered allows to scan and inspection oil rigs and large machinery and towers, operational processes, and locating bottlenecks. The dynamic Airobotic drone solution offers viewing abilities of difficult areas and more significant insights into critical processes of the pipeline mechanism. The drones can be set up with a predefined mission to attain and collect aerial data of the machinery and infrastructures of the oil rigs. Besides the monitoring, there is a provision for accurate on-demand aerial data and analytical capabilities. Finally, the drones can also detect crucial problems such as corrosion and its class type, and the daily temperature of the towers.

GE subsidiary called Avitas offers drone services and robots to achieve automation over inspection of the pipelines and other crucial components. Avitas provides drones, wheeled robots, and autonomous underwater vehicles for gathering image data from inspection from oil refineries. Some of their key offerings are offshore analytics include platform management and water injection and production systems. Additional services include downstream refinery solutions with CML optimization, improved turnaround times, and shutdowns for maintenance. Besides corrosion identification, including wall thickness predictive results, initiation prediction is also offered alongside emission detection services such as leak detection and repair in critical locations.

Airbornedrones is yet another fast-growing company that is providing long-range drones for pipeline monitoring. The Airborne drone technology is equipped with high-quality sensors aboard their UAVs and allows uninterrupted inspections of the pipelines. It can cover long distances, get into risky areas, and fly closer to the ground at night. The drones can collect data, use multispectral imaging solutions to identify damage to the vegetation due to the pipelines to ensure safety standards. These drones are lightweight with a low maintenance cost, remote laser capabilities to detect emission, object tracking, and geotagging to identify the regions and corridor mapping accurately.

Future of Modern Monitoring Provision
Combining AI and its sub-branch of computer vision technologies to provide an end-to-end the monitoring solution is the way forward. The integration of sensors with real-time computing and analytical insights saves much time and costing for many complex tasks in the oil industry that are interrelated for the successful transportation of oil to meet the demands across borders. These advanced technologies ensure a safe working environment, faster processing of tasks, and preventive maintenance to avoid many hazardous oil spills that we have witnessed over the years. Some of the benefits are decreased costs by automating several operational tasks, reduced exposure to critical contamination or security threats due to leakage, and increased productivity by eliminating the need for unnecessary shutdowns and downtime due to maintenance. Thus, leveraging drone technology and robotics are the future, and the impact is already seen, with significant oil industries opting for a significant shift towards automation and modern technologies.

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