The Importance of Drones in the Oil and Gas Industry

Operating in the oil and gas industry is no easy task. It requires complex operations, extensive costs and unenviable work hours. And, that’s all before you even consider the associated dangers in this line of work. Yet, these costs, man-hours, and hazards are exactly why using drones in the oil and gas industry makes so much sense.

Drones have lifted operational capabilities to a new level, as they have with so many other industries. Already, they’ve made operations safer, faster and more effective, ever since their first adoption in oil and gas in 2012. 

In fact, drones in the oil and gas industry are estimated to achieve $23.87 billion by the end of 2027, with a compound annual gross rate of 38.71% for the forecast period of 2021 to 2027. 

Soon, as with drones in film and photography, it will be a wonder how the oil and gas industry ever operated without them. Will they help reduce gas prices? Well, we can certainly hope!

In this article, you’ll discover the key ways in which drones in the oil and gas industry are changing the way companies operate. You’ll learn why most companies are quick to embrace the technology, and how you too, can implement them into your operations.

Drones Make Operating Safer

Unsurprisingly, the oil and gas industry suffers one of the highest fatality rates of any industry. 

Traditional human inspection of oil wells and offshore rigs involves multiple workers scaling sites, rappelling down precarious infrastructure, and operating heavy machinery. All the while, dangerous chemicals and equipment make the situation even more challenging.

Things can easily go wrong, and it’s important to implement strategies to make this process safer.

Thankfully, drones bring a new level of safety to this sector, while providing great value alongside. Drones can conduct the same surveillance and monitoring tasks as humans, while their omnidirectional sensors keep them at a safe distance from obstacles in the process. 

Drones like the Elios 2 even come with a surrounding cage, enabling flight inside confined spaces. They can even inspect oil flares in just one hour (a particularly dangerous task), which traditionally takes humans two days.

This allows workers to take a back-seat to danger, and conduct hazardous tasks safely within the virtual world.

Drone pilot setting up the drone
Related: Looking to hire a drone subcontractor? Here's what to look for. (click image to learn more)

Drones are Fast and Efficient

OK, so drones in the oil and gas industry clearly make sense from a safety standpoint.

But what about financial cost? Are they worth the investment?

Absolutely.

In fact, a case study on automated drone inspections at a US oil refinery found drones resulted in a 90% time savings  on-site inspections, a $530k reduction in observations and monitoring costs annually, and a $1.97m increase in productivity.

Impressive, right? So, how do they help accomplish all of this?

Consider a basic, yet critical task: inspecting & surveying an oil rig. A traditional human survey might take days to complete. And often, all operations must be shut down during the project to ensure safety.

A drone can take flight in minutes, scale an area in rapid time, fit through tight spaces, and follow flight paths fighter pilots could only dream of – all while capturing outstanding data in the process.

Ultimately, drones can do the tedious but necessary surveillance and monitoring work in a tenth of the time.

Drones Maximize Data Potential with Specialized Sensors

Most drones on the market come equipped with high-resolution cameras standard, capturing images and video in tremendous detail. More advanced drones even carry state-of-the-art sensors, opening even more data doors.

Lidar-equipped drones are particularly useful in the oil and gas industry, generating precise, three-dimensional information about the Earth’s surfaces. This helps plan infrastructure, pipeline placement, drilling locations, and much more.

Infra-red cameras are perfect tools for identifying heat levels and leaks in tanks and pipes. As a result, they help ensure safe temperatures across your site – particularly in areas difficult for humans to access.

Third-party programs like Optelos take drone data to the next level, developing 3D models of sites. This allows even easier analysis, as well as the ability to interact with your site in the virtual world. This means you can work on offshore sites even while based on land.

Drones in the Oil and Gas Industry Deliver Automation Advantages

When you combine the safety and speed of drones with their automation abilities, you’re left with exponential benefits.

On an oil and gas site, an automated drone allows repeat missions with visual machine learning algorithms. A drone can be set on an automated and routine flight path, delivering continuous monitoring and data collection. 

Drones continue to become more intelligent, with international laws surrounding autonomous drone flight also improving. In the future, this will open even further operational potential.

Blocks of carved wooden letters that spell out drone regulations
Related: What are the rules and regulations surrounding drone-in-a-box solutions? (click image to learn more)

Drones Provide Faster Emergency Response

Drones have proven themselves critical in life-saving and emergency response operations time and time again. From delivering defibrillators to life-rafts, fighting fires, or even monitoring shark proximity to beaches, safety improvements remain undeniable.

Disasters can and will happen in the oil and gas industry. Whether caused by Mother Nature or human error, it’s important to manage them quickly with an effective strategy.

Drones can withstand higher temperatures than humans, and have been used during tank fires to monitor fires’ progression. Drones can live stream to first responders, identifying the perimeters of a fire. They also display data on likely paths of fire, while also identifying holes in tanks and pipes where efforts should be focused.

Methane leaks from US oil and gas refineries can amount to 2.3% of their entire gas production.

Using drones as remote monitoring tools in high-risk areas can reduce clean-up costs by as much as 90%. This means greater efficiencies and a reduced environmental impact.

What’s not to love?

Drones Provide Enhanced Goods Handling

Drones are beginning to be used worldwide to transport goods, although the full scope and capabilities remain currently limited. Mind you, it’s less about the technical abilities than the rules and regulations involved.

However, a drone’s lifting ability will soon likely become a handy addition to your oil or gas site. Drones could transport materials or machinery across sites, proving extremely beneficial in reducing transport times, as well as improving safety. 

For now, this is not legally possible, so we will wait until the rules are set straight around carrying dangerous goods – stay tuned!

The Key Takeaways

With the market for drones in oil and gas industry growing rapidly, it’s clear their advantages are making a great impact.

While the oil and gas industry continues to face obstacles in supply, hazards, and operational costs, it will remains essential to innovate wherever possible.

Drones provide you a clear way of accomplishing your goals.

So, which drone is right for you? And, how do you get started? Do you hire out or bring your drone program in-house?

At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.

Ready to learn more? Just complete the form below to schedule a risk-free consultation!

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James Perry - Contributing Author

James Perry - Contributing Author

James Perry is an aerial content producer and previous interviewer at Flock Cover for the drone video series, Flock Fridays. James has created content for well known international drone and mobility companies, and is particularly interested in modern technologies' potential to enhance sustainability and positively impact the way we live.

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