Making the operations safer with Drone Inspections in Oil & Gas field

Indoor inspection using Flyability elios 2
Oil and gas fields are home to a plethora of hazards--many of which are caused by the process, product, and environment. To maintain a safe working atmosphere and prevent accidents and incidents, regular inspections of assets are necessary. Unsurprisingly, internal inspections of Oil field assets are not easy or safe- especially using traditional methods. This explains the rise in popularity of drone-powered internal inspections- Drone inspections in Oil & Gas make the operations faster and safer while being more cost-effective and yielding better data.

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Let’s explore how Drone inspections in Oil & Gas make the operations faster and safer while being more cost-effective and yielding better data.

What Makes Oil & Gas Inspections Dangerous?

1. Hostile and Unfavorable Environments

Most Oil & Gas fields occupy remote areas, these areas often harbor harsh climates, dangerous animals and an adverse environment. This ups the danger on an already hazardous task and makes the inspector’s work difficult. Any sudden change in weather for the worse, such as sandstorms or heavy rainfall hinders the inspection process, causing delay and pose health risks to the inspectors. Industrial grade drones help mitigate a lot of these challenges.

2. Worker Safety

Internal asset inspections require inspectors to enter confined spaces and use a variety of dangerous climbing or suspension equipment. This equipment itself and the supporting structures like walls and floors also play a role in the individual’s safety. When they are in poor condition, they can cause falls and accidents. This can have an impact on both the inspector and those nearby. Furthermore, due to corrosion and other flaws, the walls of some structures, such as flare stacks and others, may be slippery or weak. Climbing along these structures puts the inspector at risk of slips, trips, falls, and cuts caused by broken parts. On the other hand, Drone inspections in Oil & Gas field, can easily and effectively solve this problem.

3. Toxic Gases

While physical injuries can more apparently be fatal, the risk of the toxic fumes structures is nearly as deadly. Using incorrect equipment may also cause sparks that may ignite the gases. In the case of an internal flare stack inspection, the flare must be cleared of all toxic fumes completely before it is safe enough for human entry. Drones on the other hand, don’t need the flare to be devoid of all toxic and dangerous gases and can be safely flown into these environments.

4. Vehicle Accidents

Transport accidents are the most common in Oil fields. According to the Journal of Petroleum Technology, driving is at the top of the list of dangerous activities in Oil and Gas fields. But what does driving have to do with internal inspections? The traditional method of internal inspections is prone to delays and interruptions and requires heavy equipment to be hauled to and fro- This, coupled with tight deadlines and long hours leads to driver fatigue and unavoidable adverse situations outside of the driver’s controls.

5. Shut Down Operations

Oil and Gas Internal Asset Inspections are risky and dangerous- and with increased danger comes increased personnel. While this, in general, is good practice, but in a shutdown event, the high number of workers itself is a danger. In addition, coordinating across multiple departments during a shutdown event is challenging and impairs communications. Finally, in the case of emergencies, poor communication can cause delays in receiving assistance or supplies. For this reason, keeping onsite personnel to a minimum during shutdown events is imperative- Internal drone inspections only require a two-person team with minimal hazards, which cuts down on the number of personnel needed.

Flare inspection using drone aerial M300 RTK
Inspecting live flare can be done using drone

Traditional Internal Flare Stack Inspection

Previously, inspecting a flare stack’s internal surface and systems was a dangerous, time-intensive and expensive endeavour. First, clearance must be obtained, which can even take up to a week. Only then can the flare shut down process start. Once shut down, the flare must be left to cool down completely which takes a considerable amount of time. Once cool enough, the stack is thoroughly checked for any gas leaks that could endanger the inspectors’ lives. Finally the inspection may now commence. 

Inspectors must gain access to the stack through confined space or enter the stack from the top. Using rope and even scaffolding, the inspectors assess the stack. The inspection takes a significant amount of time; depending on the stack’s size, it could take weeks. It is critical to remember that the inspectors are working in extremely confined spaces that are used to disperse dangerous gases and chemicals such as sulphur– the remnants of these toxic gases are ever-present and can not be completely evacuated from the chamber.

This method of internal flare stack inspection is not just dangerous but also costly and causes much downtime. Drone inspections in Oil & Gas filed are helping the companies to significantly cut-down the cost- we covered that in our recent article here. Or, if you’re interested in external flare stack inspection while the stack is operational- you can read our case study on it here.

Drone inspections in Oil & Gas

Making Flare Stack Inspections Safer and Reducing Corporate Risk and Expenses

One of the most effective methods of mitigating hazards is through Engineering Controls- essentially removing the people from the hazard itself or placing a barrier between the danger and people. Using a drone allows you to do just that. Drones have been empowering inspectors across all industries- allowing them to conduct detailed visual inspections from the comfort and safety of a ground station.

The Oil and Gas companies can now isolate people from hazards and nearly remove all the danger you need to consider. For example, you avoid the need for confined space entry, rope access and the need for scaffolding- and altogether eliminate the need for a human to enter the Flare Stack.

Oil and Gas companies can also take advantage of drones to protect themselves from liability and mitigate corporate risk. By safeguarding the field personnel from harm, drones prevent injuries and the lost time that inevitably comes with them. Medical insurance, health insurance, work comp, and liability expenses can all decrease as injuries and illnesses become less frequent.

Drones improve the overall safety of workers in Oil and Gas fields and decrease the corporate risk that comes with running an Old and Gas company.

Inspecting the Interior of a Flare Stack in One Hour with Drones

Inspecting assets in Oil and Gas can be risky procedures- especially when you are trying to inspect the insides of flare stacks and boiler tanks. However, when drones are introduced into the mix, these inspections can be made significantly safer. For example, inspecting the interior of this flare stack traditionally took two days to complete- not counting the time for shutting and cooling down. So let’s see how drones can transform this inspection.

Indoor inspection using drone elios 2
Project timeline

Previously, an inspector would have to rappel up the flare stack and lower themselves through the pilot flame tip to inspect it. The inspectors are incredibly vulnerable to strong winds. Once the inspectors have braved the elements, it is time for them to enter the stack through a narrow opening at the top. The inspectors then rappel down the dangers they face in the dusty, dark stack. The inspectors must equip heavy personal protective equipment like suits and masks to enter and exit the stack without coming into contact with the toxic fumes. The flare stack inside also presents obstructions and unexpected obstacles that the inspectors need to be mindful of. 

This whole process can take about two days to complete, and throughout the two days, the inspectors are exposed to a number of dangers and hazards. The FEDS Team knew they could greatly improve this process and significantly make it safer. 

Dispatching just a single drone team, the FEDS team arrived on site with the trusty Elios 2 in tow. FEDS selected Flyability’s Elios 2 because you need a drone that can easily traverse complex and confined environments for indoor inspections. It would be best if you had a drone that could roll off walls and narrow spaces like pipelines or stacks. The environment adds another layer of difficulty and danger that conventional drones may find challenging. This is where the Elios comes in; it mitigates this extra layer of difficulty and danger via design. 

Using the Elios 2, the FEDS pilot was able to inspect the inside of the flare stack in just an hour. Through the drone, the inspector was able to identify points of corrosion where the sulphur had eroded layers of the wall and caused damage. Once completed, the data from the drone was then analysed by a specialist who used it to generate detailed and accurate reports that helped:

  • Understand the condition of the flare and its potential life expectancy
  • Provide enough data to establish a plan for maintenance work
  • Determine what spares or materials would be required
  • Provide time to plan, schedule and book a maintenance and installation contractor

With better data reporting and improved safety, the client improved the reliability of their assets and increased the overall efficiency of the field. Are you interested in transforming your Oil and Gas asset inspections? We’d be happy to perform a cost-free demo to showcase the positive impact that drones can have on your inspection operations. Get in touch with us today.

Note: This article originally appeared on FEDS. 

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