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UAVs in Oil and Gas – steps in commercial use

UAVs – unmanned aerial vehicles, or more commonly, drones – have been the big thing in non commercial usage for over a century. The military, in particular, have taken full advantage of UAVs and their cost-saving, and continue to be the largest user to date.

UAVs have, however, started to become more and more popular in civil and commercial purposes and are finally making their stable, permanent, way into the oil and gas industry.

While O&G has been using drones for some six years now, it is only recently that they have become common in upstream oil and gas. The main application has consisted of inspection, but thermal oil mapping and emergency responses have been on the rise too. The main advantages for the industry include lower costs compared to helicopters, a rapid deployment which enables time-sensitive action and high resolution. In addition, they strongly reduce health risks by not having employees work in hazardous areas with many risk factors. The technology is particularly on the rise due to constantly tightening reporting and inspection requirements, which drones can adjust to with relative ease.

In March of 2016, Exxon Mobil trialled a two-week programme in California, USA, which involved UAVs flying over water to inspect whales in the area. The company chose UAVs to examine the effects their offshore actions have on the whales. As the trial was successful and managed to tick all the boxes, Exxon’s spokesperson Ashley Smith Alemayehu said the company will aim to further develop these remote detection systems for similar purposes.

The approval and usage by a company of such size is big for the industry. Following in Exxon’s footsteps, other companies will be encouraged to expand their drone operations. In addition, according to information revealed by Cyberhawk Innovations, who are experts in remote aerial inspection, it is now more economically viable than ever: recently, one of their clients saved $11m on a project using drones. Such testimonials give UAVs a strong backing in O&G and it is a likely prediction that drones will become more popular among the industry professionals.