Drone Tech: Providing a Helping Hand to E&P Operators

Drone technology has emerged as a valuable tool for oil and gas operators to manage their work sites and improve their ESG performance.

Drone technology has been useful in several fields of business; not to mention it’s a cool gadget for people to play with. When the pandemic became widespread in March 2020, companies in oil and gas started looking for more ways to stay productive while working at home. Employing drones to gather data from the fields was the perfect fit.

Even with stay-at-home mandates lifting and offices slowly opening up, drones in the oil and gas field are here to stay due to their numerous advantages.

“Today I think those that have embraced the digital transformation have a competitive advantage,” said Stephen Gold, CMO of SparkCognition. “I think in three years if you haven’t done it, you’re at a competitive disadvantage. So today it’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to get ahead of everybody.’ Tomorrow it’s going to be ‘I’m behind if I’m not doing these things.’”

In the oil and gas field, drones are primarily used to gather data and photographs from technology in the field, whether that be from oil rigs or wind turbines or other devices. The technology can show operators where mistakes happen, such as a leak in a rig. In addition, using drones can decrease the number of people necessary at a field at a time, which both cuts costs and reduces potential safety hazards for the workers.

“There’s an efficiency aspect measured two dimensions, time and cost,” Gold said. “A drone can do these types of tasks relatively seamlessly with a remote operator. They can cover more ground, it’s safer, it’s more efficient, it’s faster. It’s actually more accurate than asking an individual to detect a micro crack in a wind turbine blade, for example.”

Jake Lydick Founder & CEO of Eyebot

As the energy industry transitions into cleaner forms of fuel, drone technology is evolving with it.  Jake Lydick, CEO and founder of Eye-bot Aerial Solutions, explained that drones can be used to capture data that will help operators know how to best improve their ESG performance.

“It can help you with your runoff, your trenching, whatever it is,” he said. “Having information about the volumetrics or how the water is running off your pad is one thing, but that whole process can be improved by having good quality data along that process. Whatever compliance they have to meet for the environmental compliance, the data gives them the ability to reduce the cost of that based on a thorough understanding of where things are. Whoever has the best data at the end wins.”

Iain Cooper, CEO of SeekOps, also added how his company’s drone-deployed methane sensors are helping operators with ESG reporting, not only helping the oil and gas industry but also helping biogas and landfill gas facilities detect, localize and quantify their leaks – a feature that is very beneficial for operators.

“The energy transition is a dynamic space right now, there are a lot of operators out there that realize they need to look at and address their emissions,” Cooper said. “We are looking at trends in emissions, not just highlighting [when] you’ve got a leak here, you’ve got a leak there, but that this is the rate of that leak, so you can triage which repairs you do first. You are also getting the whole site emissions very efficiently with a drone, and again that is important from an ESG reporting perspective. Everybody is talking about the path to net zero; the only way you can really get there is measure it.”

As of right now, most drones are flown by a licensed pilot. In the future, however, many drone operators are expecting to be able to control the technology without pilots in an effort to further reduce deployment costs.

“The drones aren’t meant to have to have pilots; they only do right now because of the regulatory environment,” Lydick said. “I’m all about erasing that to zero as soon as possible. We don’t want to have a focus on what it takes to man a data collection effort because that’s not where we’re going. We just want to shift the focus to the resulting data.”

As originally written by Madison Ratcliff, Hart Energy

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