The oil and gas industry is an essential part of the modern economy, and whether or not you agree with the proliferation of pipelines such as the Keystone Pipeline, they’re a staple of the industry. It’s essential to be able to monitor and fix any issues, but you first have to know the source of the problems. In the past, pipeline inspections had to be conducted manually – now computer sensing technology makes the job of monitoring the pipeline much easier. It’s not foolproof, though, and one possible solution is the use of drone technology as an extra line of defense. Here are 5 ways that drones can be used in the pipeline industry.
Inspecting for Damages
The most obvious way that drones could be used is in inspecting pipelines for damages that computer sensors may have missed. They can also survey the surrounding landscape for potential terrain issues that could damage the pipeline, such as rock slides or oncoming floods. Computers are integrated with the pipelines themselves, so they can’t detect what’s going on around them. A series of mini drones that can fit in the palm of your hand are ideal for this purpose. It’s not necessary to use expensive larger drones. Approaching it this way would allow the oil companies to keep expenses down, making the idea much more feasible.
Looking for Excess Corrosion
Computers are great for a lot of things, but they can’t catch everything. Sensors are typically placed in certain high-risk areas along the pipeline, and that’s fine for capturing potentially major disasters before they happen. Drones can cover every inch of a pipeline without the need for the operator to ever have to leave the control room. If there’s a little bit of corrosion that could lead to a much bigger problem down the line, a drone can find it. If there’s one truth about corrosion it’s that you can’t generally prevent it all together. But if you know it’s there, you can deal with it before it becomes a major problem.
Sensing Gas Leaks
There are some innovative new ideas that the engineers and scientists have in mind for the near future, for using drone technology to keep pipelines safe and in the best working order possible. One of these new ideas is to introduce gas sensing technology that can sniff out leaks and help deal with them before they become a real problem. That’s right – the next generation of drones will actually be able to smell a leak!
For the pipeline industry, the threat of fire is ever-present, and prevention is always the best option. Current drones may not be able to sniff out leaks just yet, but they can help with fire prevention in other ways. They can identify potential flammable sources near a pipeline that may cause a problem, and they can give early warnings if anyone’s trying to tamper with the pipeline. It’s a lot more cost effective to prevent a fire in the first place than to have to try to put it out.
There are going to be times when, despite the best efforts of drone operators and other pipeline personnel, fires do break out. When this happens, drones can potentially help with this as well. Firefighting drones are in the works that could be used much like helicopters. They are often used today to drop large payloads of water onto fires. We may not be quite there yet, but perfection of the technology is just around the corner.