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How drone technology is helping LNG producers plan and optimize asset inspections

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07 July 2021

This month we were featured in LNG Industry magazine. Xiang Wong Technical Manager (Oil, Gas & Marine) at Cyberhawk, discusses his thoughts on how drone technology is helping LNG producers plan and optimize asset inspections.

It’s been over a year since the first cases of the COVID-19 pandemic were identified, and the full scale of disruption it has caused is clear to see. For the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, the pandemic coupled with low prices and oversupply has placed increased pressure on operators.

To survive amidst a volatile market and capitalize on future growth opportunities, they must act now to make their operations as safe, robust, and efficient as possible.

From our experience, many LNG operators have already turned to drone-based inspections as a cost-effective and time-efficient approach to identify asset defects, mitigate health and safety risks, and prioritize critical maintenance work.

As oversupply continues throughout 2021, with new projects continuing to increase capacity well beyond the steady growth of demand, we can expect more and more LNG companies to embrace the benefits of drone inspection compared with traditional methods, such as using rope access or scaffolding.

Maintenance backlogs

The roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccine has been welcomed around the world; however, the need for reduced manpower and social distancing at worksites across the world remains critical. For LNG asset operators, consideration must be made to ensure they not only protect their workforce from infection but are found to be compliant with strict guidelines set out by the regulators.

Since early 2020, many health and safety regulators have been carrying out “virtual visits” to onshore and offshore sites, and even vessels, as they continue to seek assurance that hazards are being effectively managed by operators. Last year the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) came together with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to send a loud and clear message that the "health and safety of workers remains paramount", despite the operational challenges COVID-19 brings.

These remote visits have highlighted serious cases of inspections being deferred due to cost-cutting and reduced headcounts, which has resulted in dangerous health and safety breaches, and extensive maintenance backlogs.

Even prior to the pandemic, this was an issue. A total of 1,382 non-compliance issues were raised with operators in 2019, an increase of 10% from the 1,254 cases recorded in 2018, according to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) annual Offshore Statistics and Regulatory Activity report. The category which generated the largest number of issues was maintenance. At the end of 2020, a representative of Unite union expressed his concern, stating that, “the build-up of outstanding work had increased in 2020 due to Covid-19”.

To view the full article please visit LNG Industry and view July 2021, pages 52-55.