The Oil and Gas Industry Has A New Tool In Its Search For Cost Reductions - Drones

Published by Cyndi Rude   – October 14, 2015
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Subsea use of ROVs and other remotely directed optics has been established in deep-water drilling. Use of flying drones within the oilfield services industry is relatively new. Drones have moved from military exotic to consumer plaything and now to industrial tool. Recent FAA decisions have eased restrictions in commercial applications.  Practical for less than a decade, the drone is now filling the critical role of inspection eyes. Service companies have deployed drones to access dangerous, high and remote facilities. Drones can effectively inspect entire platforms, rigs or pipelines and provide accurate sensor and visual data for maintenance decisions, without placing a person in harm’s way.

Taking the man and all of the support equipment out of the inspection budget saves insurance costs, rig up and rig down time, and man power costs. More frequent and timely inspections may be performed at fractional costs by deploying a drone. One drone can survey hundreds of feet into the air and cover thousands of square feet in minutes. As the push to reduce costs gains momentum, more production and midstream companies have turned to the airborne eyes for help.

Maintenance is only part of the flying uses. A drone can quickly and easily provide real-time over view of an entire operation for security, emergency response or operations. The drone can be used to launch rescue efforts from platforms in “man overboard” situations and larger drones may even deploy lifesaving equipment. Security surveys form altitude can detect problems early for quick action. Special optics can provide information to operations decisions and allocations.

Implementation costs are low for an industry that spends millions of dollars to produce a well.  Regulation may be the obstacle. Federal rules require drone operators to meet special licensing and training requirements, and they must keep aircraft within line-of-sight and below 400 feet in altitude.

Easing of the flight restrictions will open more jobs to drones. Farther ranging surveys, larger payloads and automated flights over remote assets like pipelines or storage batteries are all tasks ready for drone implementation. The future is flying high for service drones.

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