using drones in the oil and gas industry

The future is here to stay

Anne Cunningham - 23 July 2015

Drones being used in the oil and gas industry.

About the author

Ms Anne Cunningham
Anne Cunningham is a freelance member of Valve World magazine's editorial team and owner of Cunningham Text & Translation where she works as a text writer, (online) news editor and translator. Raised bilingual, she is experienced in writing about the process industries in both English and Dutch.
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The 21st century has brought many changes to our lives. Some things become hypes, yet are forgotten after a couple of years, others manage to penetrate our way of life and become part of society. Social media is probably the biggest example of this and a lot has been written about it, so no…other than as an example I will not devote this space to yet another article on how social media can be used professionally. However, there is one other interesting ‘hype’ that is steadily finding its way into our lives in many different ways: drones.

A drone or, as they are officially called, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. Its flight is controlled either autonomously by onboard computers or by the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle. Drones have been around a lot longer than most of us realize. Austria launched the first UAV of sorts when they bombed Venice in 1849. They launched unmanned balloons which floated over Venice carrying bombs. This triggered research into UAVs and in later years they were put to use for military purposes around the world. By 2013 UAVs were reportedly used by at least 50 countries.

The military is no longer the only one using UAVs, civilian government agencies, businesses, and private individuals have also noticed that drones can be used for cost saving, practicality, safety, and fun. Over the past few years drones have been used for many different purposes, some examples include aerial surveying of crops, acrobatic aerial footage in filmmaking, search and rescue operations, counting wildlife, delivering medical supplies to remote or otherwise inaccessible regions, border patrol missions, forest fire detection, detection of illegal hunting, and crowd monitoring. These are merely some examples.

Over the past few years another industry has started taking an interest in drones: the oil and gas industry. With UAVs oil and gas workers can reach formerly unreachable places for inspections, patrolling pipelines, detecting leaks, assessing spill damage, and security. Drones equipped with cameras and sensors such as gas detectors, infrared or laser pulses are turning out to be handy in the energy sector. BP has even been testing drones since 2006 when it began looking for ways to monitor pipelines 24/7. Nowadays, the company works with the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, using drones for pipeline leak detection. In Singapore, drones are being used for internal inspections of oil and gas tankers. Every two years, the tanks are emptied, cleaned and inspected, which previously required someone to go inside the 3-story-high tanks. A drone, enclosed in a ball to prevent damaging the drone’s rotor blades, can navigate through the tank going around pipes, valves, and tubes.

For Cyberhawk, a UAV aerial inspection and surveying company for oil, gas, petrochemical, and utility companies, June 2015 was the busiest month ever recorded, with 6 offshore projects in the North Sea. Cyberhawk’s first ever offshore inspection, a world’s first, was conducted in the North Sea in January 2012. Since then, the company has been expanding its horizons, working in 4 continents and completing work for over 20 operators including BP, SHELL, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Total, and ExxonMobil.

What the world will look like once UAVs are part of everyday life might still be left to the imagination for now, but drones are definitely here to stay, the technology is moving and industries are quickly picking up on it.

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