Historically, outsiders have viewed the oil and gas industry as one whose sole focus is turning a profit and not having much regard for its impact on workers and the environment. However, this perception has changed in recent years.

A new focus on safety and sustainability in oil and gas has risen to the forefront. This new agenda has caused the industry to adapt and has spurred on technological advances to help achieve this goal of safety and sustainability. One such advance has been drone technology.

And while drones can be incredibly expensive, they are only a tool–a means to an end – with the  true value of drone technology lying in the data collected. Because of this, many companies have emerged to provide drone services for the oil and gas industry.

Data collected

Drone services are critical, as data is useless without a way to understand the information collected. At least that’s what Brian Grant, director at Consortiq, believes.

“The sensors on the drone are what’s important because it’s the sensors that get the data, which is ultimately what the prize is at the end,” Grant said. “That’s what the customer wants. That’s what they can make their decisions based off of.”

Consortiq is a U.K. and Maryland-based drone services company that focuses on drone consultancy, drone training, aerial inspections, hardware and software. A consulting firm, they help companies set up drone programs.

As a trusted operator program certified by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Consortiq trains pilots to understand “not only the drone itself, but the power system around it, as well as the weather and the regulations the aircraft has to perform in,” Grant said.

Brian Grant, Consortiq
(Source: Consortiq)

“The sensors on the drone are what’s important because it’s the sensors that get the data, which is ultimately what the prize is at the end… That’s what the customer wants. That’s what they can make their decisions based off of.”—Brian Grant, Consortiq

But Consortiq’s calling card is the field services they offer.

“The data that’s collected could be thermal images, it could be LiDAR images, it could be high-resolution RGB [red, green, blue] images,” Grant said. “It really all depends on what the customer’s looking for. And that's why we have to be flexible, we’re offering all these services.”

Remote inspections

Consortiq’s services help keep operators out of harm’s way because they don’t have to gather the information themselves and are able to pilot drones from a safe space.

Keeping workers out of the field and allowing them to perform inspections remotely is one of the easiest ways to keep operators safe. Another company that prioritizes remote inspections is Cyberhawk.

Cyberhawk is a drone inspection and data software company that conducts inspections of difficult-to-reach structures both onshore and offshore. The company uses their iHawk solution to visualize assets and synthesize data collected into a solution for whatever issues an operator may be having.

“They will fly the drone, capture images or collect data depending on what the deliverable will be… and then compile a technical report, detailing any faults that they find or any defects and report back to the client,” said Callum Kottis, technical manager at Cyberhawk. “Aside from that, we can also collect data to visualize or digitize assets, which essentially looks into converting the captured images into a 3D model representative of real life.”

Callum Kottis, Cyberhawk
(Source: Cyberhawk)

“You can log into iHawk, load the 3D mesh model, and have a detailed look at those hard-to-reach areas and do an inspection while sitting at your desk.”—Callum Kottis, Cyberhawk

The iHawk mitigates many issues when it comes to the safety of both the environment and the operators.

“In terms of people, I would say it reduces the need for working at height activities. It eliminates the need for scaffolding and that reliance on the rope access teams,” Kottis said. “You can log into iHawk, load the 3D mesh model and have a detailed look at those hard-to-reach areas and do an inspection while sitting at your desk.”

Additionally, the drones are able to live stream back to emergency services when a situation goes awry, providing for a direct line of communication. This can help “determine the source of a fire or gas leak, use heat signatures to locate missing personnel and monitor spills offshore,” he said.

When operators use the iHawk, they are also able to diagnose potential problems and equipment failures sooner, which can prevent the asset’s integrity from deteriorating, according to the company.

“Protect the environment by monitoring gas emissions… identifying the areas where onsite you may have gas leak, or you might have high levels of methane present or other hazardous gases that you might not even have been aware of. Using a drone or drone technology to be able to pinpoint those leaks and then obviously take corrective action,” Kottis said.

Optical gas imaging

Another company that specializes in drone services and inspections via hi-tech cameras is Flogistix.

Flogistix’s AirMethane solutions use optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras to pinpoint methane leaks throughout a site. Originally, this type of detection was done with handheld cameras, but using drones allows operators to detect “really small, minute leaks” with “easier repeatability,” said David Martinez, Flogistix’s AirMethane operations manager.

“With that bird’s eye view, you have that more consistent inspection than anything else,” Martinez said. “The handheld guys won’t even get one frame or view like this. I’m getting an aerial view, and I'm getting 360 degrees around everything else.”

Flogisitx drone
Flogistix AirMethane drone. (Source: Flogistix)

AirMethane’s OGI cameras fulfill a plethora of uses, as they not only use sniffer and laser technology to detect leaks, but they also help operators monitor and meet OOOOa (the Environmental Protection Agency’s CFR 40 part 60 subpart OOOOa) standards and can create 3D models of sites as well. To be able to handle all of this data, AirMethane has its own free online cloud-based portal to view all the data gathered in one spot.

“Our customers get access into their portal so they can see the reviews and everything else,” Martinez said. “So, we’re able to upload all of our data and everything else into the portal, and then they can view it as their customer.”

So far, AirMethane has a large client base, as they’re able to leverage Flogistix’s normal, everyday clientele. Companies using these services include DCP Midstream, Seneca Resources, Earthstone Energy, Medallion Midstream and Matador Resources.

Drone technology and drone services go hand-in-hand. One cannot exist without the other. And together they have contributed to transforming the oil and gas industry into a safer place.