A Sea of Change: How Drones Can Truly Impact Offshore Oil And Gas

Ask almost anyone what the oil and gas industry did from 2003 and 2013 and they could very likely tell you that it boomed, and it boomed in a big way. Companies expanded, a huge amount of workers were hired, and profits skyrocketed. From the outside, everything looked rosy for oil and gas.

Those on the inside of the industry know that something else skyrocketed right alongside profits, however: worker fatalities. While companies worked around the clock to meet worldwide demand during this decade, a total of 1,189 workers died in the United States alone. Between the years of 2003 and 2010, an oil and gas worker was seven times more likely to die as a result of a workplace incident than the average US worker.

Ask almost anyone what the oil and gas industry did from 2003 and 2013 and they could very likely tell you that it boomed, and it boomed in a big way.

In the years since, there’s been a push to find the safety measures and technologies than can make the oil and gas industry safer, particularly when it comes to infrastructure like offshore oil rigs. From headline-grabbing incidents like the Deepwater oil spill and explosion to everyday falls or exposures to harmful materials, going offshore means entering a hornet’s nest of deadly hazards, often in worryingly remote locations. For these workers, however, a major improvement is on the horizon.

Industrious technology

When drones for industrial use first entered the picture, the offshore oil and gas industry was one of the most obvious fits for this technology. This is an industry where workers are regularly dealing with highly combustible materials, heavy equipment, significant heights and hazardous conditions.

A leading automated industrial drone that can operate with minimal human intervention eliminates the need for human pilots altogether, eliminating related expenses, delays and potential for human error. 

One of the most essential aspects of offshore oil and gas production that drones have the potential to impact are inspections. Regular or on-demand inspections of offshore oil platforms can be quickly completed with live or captured high-def video, allowing for proper assessment and aiding in maintenance and repair plans. Flare stack inspections can also be completed with a drone, not only preventing workers from climbing the stacks but also eliminating the need to shut down stacks to protect those workers, thereby improving the production schedule.

Industrial drones can also be used to monitor gas emissions, protecting personnel as well as the environment from toxic and combustible emissions. In addition, industrial drones are essential for a fast and targeted response to oil spills: they can help not only detect spills but measure a spill and its pace of spread and help response vessels get to the precise location of the spill and have an informed plan for handling it and reducing the recovery time as well as the risk of life-threatening fire or explosion.

As with many industries, industrial drones can also provide important security and surveillance functions for offshore oil and gas operations – a must, given that some remote vessels and platforms are faced with the threat of piracy.

…going offshore means entering a hornet’s nest of deadly hazards, often in worryingly remote locations.

It isn’t hard to see how industrial drones offer advantages over traditional means of completing these tasks for offshore oil and gas operations. However, with the price of oil and gas having such a significant impact on global economy, safety concerns don’t get to exist in a vacuum. Operational costs have to be carefully considered, and the only technology that’s going to make a significant impact on offshore oil and gas production is technology that can protect employees and improve operational efficiencies without undoing all those benefits with a huge price tag. In short, not just any industrial drone will do.

Finding the right fit

There are four main drawbacks to standard industrial drones: the cost of either drone pilots or the cost of training and certifying employees as drone pilots, delays in response time associated with waiting for an on-call drone pilot if the major expense of a fulltime pilot cannot be justified, delays associated with drone maintenance, and the potential for human error in flight and data collection.

These four issues, fortunately, have one solution, and it’s something that’s permeating industrial technology overall: automation. A leading automated industrial drone that can operate with minimal human intervention eliminates the need for human pilots altogether, eliminating related expenses, delays and potential for human error. By performing its own routine maintenance including the changing of batteries and swapping of payloads and sensors, an automated industrial drone is an always-available multitool that can efficiently handle anything from routine security sweeps and regular inspections to leak detection and emergency response.

This is technology that can perform essential operations faster, cheaper, more accurately and without necessitating shutdowns. This is technology that protects human lives by taking dangerous duties off their to-do lists, and by providing as much information as quickly as possible in the event of an incident or emergency, informing and improving incident response. This is technology that can truly impact offshore oil and gas operations.

As the oil and gas industry continues to climb out of the slump that started in 2014, here’s hoping that technology like automated drones will be put to work in order to ensure that there’s less downside to the next upswing.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.
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