Oil and gas operators around the world own, manage and maintain a huge amount of infrastructure and assets both onshore and offshore. It is essential, and often a legal requirement, to regularly inspect these assets to prevent issues which might result in loss of production and importantly, the safety of personnel. Regular inspection is required so that these potential issues can be monitored and addressed as quickly as possible.
Inspection programmes, however, can be highly manpower-consuming, can incur significant costs and at times, can mean personnel working in dangerous, difficult to access environments. In many cases, inspection technicians are required to work at height, and whilst techniques such as rope access offer significant safety advantages when compared with scaffolding, risks are still present.
Back in 2008, a team of innovative minds spotted a gap in the oil and gas inspection market for the use of Remotely Operated Aerial Vehicles (ROAV), otherwise known as UAVs or drones. Cyberhawk Innovations, the global leader in the use of ROAVs for aerial inspection and survey, completed the world’s first onshore and offshore oil and gas inspections and set drone technology on course for exponential growth in the oil and gas industry.
Cyberhawk uses ROAVs to conduct close up inspections of live and difficult to reach structures, such as flares, platform underdecks, internal tanks, chimneys, exhausts and vent stacks. The ability to collect data, including photographic and thermal imagery, with an unprecedented level of detail has seen work for Cyberhawk increase by more than 100% in the last two years.
Headquartered in Scotland, Cyberhawk is a trusted provider to all six oil and gas super-majors, many national oil companies and independent operators, with names including PDO, ADNOC, Sabic, Dubai Petroleum, Occidental, Oman LNG, Gasco, Daleel Petroleum, Shell and Total. The team of highly skilled ROAV pilots and experienced inspection engineers have worked together to complete more than 10,000 commercial flights, 2,000 structural inspections and 200 live flare inspections, achieving over 25 world firsts, as well as expanding its offering to the renewables, utilities and rail sectors.
Uptake of ROAV technology in Europe has been strong, and has resulted in Cyberhawk expanding its global offering with the launch of offices in the Middle East and SE Asia in 2015. From its Abu Dhabi base, and by combining local knowledge, on the ground capabilities and inspection expertise, Cyberhawk has completed numerous assignments in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Oman and Dubai.
Innovation for the industry
According to a 2015 report from Radiant Insights, the worldwide commercial drone market is to reach $4.8billion by 2021 and in particular, notes that drones have “fundamentally changed the accuracy of utility and oil and gas inspections”.
This growth is attributed to more economical visualisation and navigation provided by drone systems, including mapping and inspection from the air.
Specifically for the oil and gas sector, the ability to conduct multiple work scope inspections on one mobilisation is extremely advantageous. Onshore inspections can include flares, vents, chimney stacks, telecommunication towers and elevated pipework, while offshore this extends to splash zone, risers, the underdeck and derricks on assets, all whilst they are online, in a fraction of the time usually taken by a person. No matter the scale of the asset management programme, operators are able to better plan maintenance and turnarounds, and there are huge efficiencies to be gained.
Cyberhawk has already proven that where a rope access team could take up to 14 weeks to inspect a complex area, an ROAV inspection has been shown to complete the same project in three days. This means increased facility uptime and reduced deferment, leading to major cost savings, maximised production time and improved time schedules.
A further example of the significant efficiencies to be gained is in terms of costs. A recent offshore flare inspection saved the client around $2.3million, by avoiding the requirement for an abseiling team and a platform shutdown, which would have taken seven days to complete.
In addition to the time and cost savings on offer, ROAV inspections also provide huge safety benefits. Working at height is the single largest cause of fatalities in the workplace, however the use of ROAVs significantly reduces this requirement with rope access technicians only being necessary when the aerial inspection has identified that maintenance and repair is required.
Taking Flight Globally
Legislation around the use of drones in the Middle East, whether it be for recreational or commercial use, is still maturing and gaining the correct permission for the legal operation of a commercial UAV can be challenging.
Cyberhawk has an extensive aviation background and has now completed commercial assignments in more than 20 countries in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. This wealth of experience has led to Cyberhawk achieving a 90% market share in the UK Continental Shelf in 2015. Operators trust Cyberhawk’s significant oil and gas experience and highly trained staff, who ensure inspections are carried out in the safest and most efficient manner, and the highest quality reports are produced as standard.
Whilst the uptake of commercial drone use has been slower to date in the Middle East than in Europe, as the oil and gas sector increasingly becomes aware of the benefits of ROAV technology, there is no doubt that we’ll see many more ‘eyes in the sky’.
In September 2015, Cyberhawk was tasked by a major oil and gas operator in the UAE with the safe inspection of six flares, 12 vent stacks, multiple bridges, tripods, and telecom towers, offshore in the Persian Gulf.
The rationale behind the operator’s use of ROAVs was to avoid the requirement to shut down platform operations whilst inspections took place. The operator also wanted to reduce human exposure to hazardous environments, including working at height, as well as remaining a safe distance from the operational assets. Further to this, high quality data was sought to improve maintenance and turnaround planning, in turn supporting management decisions.
The alternative technique considered for the flare tip inspections was using a full size helicopter, however this method would not have given a comprehensive, 360 degree view of the whole flare such as under the flare deck and supporting structure. The ROAV also meant other difficult inspection work scopes such as bridges, tripods and telecom towers could be inspected on the same mobilisation. Therefore, the use of ROAVs was investigated and deemed to be the preferred method for addressing these issues.
Cyberhawk’s significant aviation experience of operating in more than 20 countries globally meant Cyberhawk secured the necessary flight permissions from the UAE aviation authority as well as additional approvals from the local airforce.
A two man team was mobilised to the platform, consisting of an experienced ROAV pilot and an oil and gas inspection engineer. Detailed inspection reports were then produced by Cyberhawk’s experienced oil and gas inspection team with additional analysis from Cyberhawk’s flare expert on the condition of the flare tips. The operator reported that the work was completed safely and efficiently with high quality reports provided in a timely manner.