As the continued pinch felt by the oil industry due to low prices and over-supply continues to make new oil and gas exploration projects hard to be financially viable, recent developments in drone technology may offer a solution.

The recent Environmental Protection Agency legislation in the US requires pipeline operators to be vigilant in detecting and stopping leaks. A new helicopter drone - Raven, developed in part with GE, is being tested to sniff for methane emissions at well sites. During a trial run in July, GE proved that Raven could find gas leaking from a pair of well sites half a mile from each other on a shale gas site in Arkansas.

"When you think of Project Raven and the usage of new tools and applications, it’s going to be key to take the industry forward," Lorenzo Simoneli, chief executive officer at GE Oil & Gas.

The challenge with current drone technology for the oil and gas industry is to create a user-friendly device that can capture massive amounts of data. This comes at a time when regulators are still mapping out the rules for commercial use of drones in the US, and development is still in the early stages so it would be hard to say what potential savings could be reaped from drone use.

Currently the test for methane leaks relies on a worker walking around the well with an infra-red camera. This method works like a smoke detector, notifying the worker of a leak, but not giving any indication as to the scale of the leak. GE is working on making the Raven system able to perform methane inspections three times faster than the current method.

Next month GE will be testing a new drone with six sets of helicopter blades, each 21 inches long, and weighing less than 20 pounds. The drone is designed to fly at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, powered by six rechargeable batteries, and able to fly for up to 40 minutes carrying a laser based methane sensor able to transmit live data to workers on the ground. Based on the results of these tests it may be time to rethink current drone use legislation in the light of potential safety advances, and increased response times to leaks.


Categories: Industry update

By: Atmos International
Date: 17 April 2019