Drones in the oil and gas industry: Leading companies

18 November 2019 (Last Updated July 22nd, 2020 17:24)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones have become integral to the oil and gas (O&G) industry in recent years, owing to their increasing usability with advancements in technology.

Drones in the oil and gas industry: Leading companies

Drone makers are collaborating with oil and gas companies to develop custom drones with data collection technology to obtain real-time insights.

One of the early adopters of drones, BP, started conducting pilot studies in 2006 at its oilfields in Alaska. The studies evaluated the effectiveness of drones in monitoring gravel road conditions. This helped ensure safe and efficient movement of trucks supplying oilfield equipment to the production site.

Listed below are the leading companies using drones in the oil and gas industry, as identified by GlobalData.

BP

British oil major BP is among the earliest adopters of drones in oil and gas applications. The company first undertook trials at its Alaskan oil and gas assets in 2006. They were the first oil and gas company in the US to receive a license to operate commercial drones in 2013. BP has teamed up with AeroVironment to expand its drone usage within the country. The company now deploys drones, crawlers, and other robotic technologies to undertake risky tasks in their operational areas.

Chevron

Chevron is leveraging the aerial data acquisition capabilities of drones for improving safety and productivity at oilfields. The company is applying augmented reality to drone feed for evaluating field equipment and infrastructure during inspection and monitoring operations. Chevron is also experimenting on the application of drones in the event of industrial accidents, particularly for assisting in oil spills.

ConocoPhillips

ConocoPhillips is employing drones for inspection and monitoring of its assets worldwide. These include the US, the North Sea, and in Australia. At the Judy field in the North Sea, the company deploys drones to inspect the unmanned offshore production platform. ConocoPhillips was able to detect flaws on a flare tip at that platform using the inspection technologies onboard the drone. This avoided an unplanned shutdown.

The company is also using drones to inspect oil tankers for defects on the exterior and in cargo storage. They have managed to lower the overall time it takes to inspect the tankers by approximately 75%. This enables tankers to return to service sooner.

Equinor

Equinor is investing in a broad range of emerging technologies as it seeks to transform its operations using digitalisation. It is involved in the development of robotics and drone technologies to leverage their manoeuvrability in plant facilities that may seem inaccessible to field technicians.

The company is collaborating with various organisations, research institutes, and technology providers, including NASA. Equinor is involved in the development of data acquisition technologies that can be mounted on drones performing remote monitoring, asset inspection, and leak detection. Equinor’s drone usage is anticipated to grow as it embarks on automating oilfield operations in the North Sea. The aim is to implement unmanned, and possibly fully autonomous, production platforms.

ExxonMobil

Among the numerous technology research initiatives undertaken by ExxonMobil, the development of drone technologies has featured prominently on the company’s agenda since 2012. The company is aiding the development of drones for their potential in enhancing operational safety while contributing to efficiency.

In the last two years, ExxonMobil has deployed drones for aerial surveillance and inspection of operations in North America, the UK, and Australia. They have mainly been targeting offshore platforms and refining and petrochemical complexes. The company has also used drones for co-ordinating relief work after hurricanes. They have also been used for detecting the presence of whales in proximity to vessels during seismic tests.

Gazprom

Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom is carrying out extensive trials to assess the performance of drones in surveillance and monitoring of its assets under extreme cold conditions. The company is aiming to develop drones that could facilitate fast, safe and reliable data collection at lower costs.

In June 2019, Gazprom announced the successful completion of a project that involved the use of drones for conducting hydrocarbon exploration at Novoportovskoye field. The company intends to build on this success and use drone technology for exploration of hydrocarbon prospects in the Siberian region. 

Royal Dutch Shell

Shell is also among the early adopters of drones. It has been using drones from Aeryon Labs for performing flare stack inspections at its facilities. The company is also conducting pilot studies at its technology centre in Houston. They intend to assess the capabilities of drones in conducting asset inspections using different combinations of sensing devices and drone technologies.

In December 2018, Shell announced a partnership with a technology start-up Kespry that specialises in providing drone-based aerial data acquisition for industrial applications.

This is an edited extract from the Drones in Oil & Gas – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.

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