Quality and Safety: Not Always Visible From the Ground

At Summit Casing, we’re always looking for new ways to leverage technology to improve quality and make the world a safer place. Safety is at the core of everything we do — whether the focus is on our own people and business or on our customers and the environment.  With that in mind, we’re excited about the emerging use of unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly called drones) in some of our industry’s most dangerous tasks, such as inspections, monitoring, and testing processes.

Drones are already being deployed by fire departments, law enforcement, and farmers to avoid putting people in harm’s way. Now the use of these small aerial robots is just starting to become a reality in the oil and gas industry.

Among the first companies to deploy drones are ConocoPhillips and BP, following a decision in 2014 by the National Transportation Safety Board, and subsequent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules that have opened up the use of drones for commercial purposes,  though on a case-by-case basis for now.

Two companies in our industry are already saving time and money with drones:

  • ConocoPhillips was the first to team up with a drone tech company to deploy an unmanned craft off the coast of Alaska to conduct surveys of ice and marine life — the kind of work typically required by environmental regulations.
  • According to a report in Oil & Gas Financial Journal, BP is using a single drone for visual inspections of pipelines and other infrastructure, and to create 3-D models of roads, pads, and pipelines that integrate the information they collect with topographic data.

Since the early 2000s, technology companies have been demonstrating the potential for using drones during inspections, even while sites are live. The potential cost savings is immense when you consider the effort it normally takes teams of inspectors to do these tasks. Unlike having to send people on ropes or scaffolding, hanging off the sides of platforms and other tall infrastructures, drones can fly in and out, collecting data in a fraction of the time and with significantly less risk.

Companies deploying drones in our industry are already seeing cost savings when compared with the expense of using planes or helicopters. Drones are also capable of providing a level of data consistency and accuracy that humans cannot. With the cost savings, the decrease in safety hazards, and the reliability delivered, drones have the potential to become a fundamental tool used in the oil industry.