Oil and Gas Drone Inspection Reduces Time and Cost

Drilling rig sunset in Basra.jpg

By: Renner Vaughn

Cape for the oil, gas and chemical industry

Upstream Operators Finally Can Use Drones Every Day; Safely and Effectively

Companies are always looking to save money, and oil and gas companies are no exception. Whether they are scheduled inspections or responses to alarms, field visits are not only costly but time consuming.  When your company has decided to operate by exception, using SCADA and process automation to control facilities, that strategy can be measured in higher production rates, better equipment uptime, and less windshield time for personnel.  Fuel, vehicle wear and tear, wages and insurance all play into the company’s OPEX model. During the workday, sending an experienced technician can cost upwards of $500 per truck roll.  After hours, that costs rises to around $1000. Through the use of drones, operators can significantly reduce truck rolls and isolate problems more quickly by remotely inspecting assets first. Doing so not only allows the engineers and managers to address the issue before sending a field technician but also allows for a higher success rate at solving the problem.

Cape helps companies work smarter by putting real-time information in the hands of their employees without requiring high-priced windshield time.  With low speed limits for vehicles on many leases and many miles to cover each day, it’s much faster to move inspection drones to field locations than it is to send personnel.  Operators already in the field can double or even triple the number of facility inspections each week, which helps the higher-value experts do more analysis and less driving, saving the company both time and money.     

With Cape’s Aerial Telepresence™ drone software solution, all you need to remotely inspect the facility is a drone in the field.  A local operator can unload the drone from his or her pickup and login to the Cape Operator iPad app. The engineer or manager in the office then logs into to the Cape portal on a web browser, views the live stream and controls the drone position and camera remotely. Cape technology ensures safe drone operation because the drone flight is contained inside a virtual geofence defined by the user, meaning, it will not crash and has the ability to avoid obstacles.  When the battery gets low, the drone automatically returns home and lands itself. Now company stakeholders can rest assured that they are always complying with FAA regulations for safe drone flight.


Production facilities, tank farms and terminals

Companies spend millions to design and construct new production facilities.  During construction, project managers need to track the status of each phase of the project, and in doing so they need to inspect the site multiple times.  Drones make it easy and cost-effective to put virtual “eyes” on a new perimeter fence or a new tank battery as crews build. When facility construction is complete, executives visit the site using Cape Aerial Telepresence™ saving all the travel time, lost hours, and travel expense. Traditionally, up to 30 people would plan to visit the facility, traveling from other towns, states, even countries. With a Cape-enabled drone and just one technician onsite, the entire management team can get a live, high-definition tour of the facility while sitting in a conference room or at their desks.  Think about that the next time you go to book a round trip flight from Houston to Williston or Denver to Midland.


Telecom Infrastructure

Drone technology is helping operators maintain a variety of other field assets through drone inspection.  Producers often build communication infrastructure to support all types of field connectivity: SCADA, PLCs, electronic work orders, e-mail, chat, etc.  Some companies have built dozens of towers throughout their fields, ranging from 30-foot push poles to 200 foot guyed towers. It’s expensive to send climbers up to inspect towers every time the network team suspects that there could be a physical equipment issue impacting field communications.  Sending a drone for tower inspection instead can save thousands of dollars in just a few months by allowing experts to remotely verify that antennas are clean, aligned and free of corrosion at cable connection points.

For new radio links, project teams spend lots of time and money on engineering and design to make sure the path is clear.  But nothing beats a site survey for spotting issues that could later become “gotchas” when closing radio links. To take that a step further, have you ever thought of actually flying the path of a planned microwave radio link to check for obstructions?  The path studies look clear and Google Earth shows minimal elevation changes. But past experience forces the question: when was the satellite imagery and elevation data last updated? Project teams still encounter unwanted surprises when tower climbers are on site and it’s time to turn up a new link.  By flying a drone along the path using Cape technology, an engineer can see the exact line that antennas will use to transmit the radio signal. Then, for documentation, the engineer can record the flight path and file that away with the link engineering data. With Cape, ensuring Line-of-Sight for your radio links takes on a whole new dimension.  It’s not hard to predict that for telecom professionals in the industry, finding a drone solution that allows them to have remote, real-time aerial visualization of their assets will be a game-changer.

Teleoperator's view inspecting a gas facility

Teleoperator's view inspecting a gas facility