How Drones in the Oil Industry are helping to monitor for methane

In the news, we constantly hear all the bad things that Oil companies do to our environment.  I’m not saying that any of this isn’t true.  What I am trying to say is they are doing good too.  As technology improves so does their job of handling environmental situations.  Drones in the oil industry today are helping to check oil refineries and platforms for methane leaks.

Image BP Employees Drones

Methane considered a greenhouse gas.  When released into the air from oil refinement activities it has serious health impacts on humans and wildlife.  One of the conditions it causes is low air quality impacts.  Many large cities call this smog.  During these impacts, the air quality can cause increased occurrences of asthma and respiratory conditions and diseases. 

Those individuals with longer exposure to released methane have a higher chance of contracting cancer, damage to their immune system, and neurological conditions.  This is why oil companies recognizing the need to monitor and catch these leaks is so important.

First Methane Measurement Program

British Petroleum (BP) has developed the first in its industry continuous monitoring system for methane.  They have introduced drones with other advanced technologies to perform this monitoring.  In the past employees, didn’t have access to good tools informing of the true risk introduced to the environment.  They had to rely on the burn process and that it was removing the dangerous hydrocarbon emissions. 

Image of BP Drone The problem with this method is it’s not reliable.  Using drones BP can deploy them in multiple locations continuously monitoring for any escaping methane leaks.  Drones don’t need bathroom or lunch breaks and can stay flying for longer periods; thus continuously monitoring the gas levels.

The drones programmed to work autonomously can report real-time data to a central data collection facility.  If the drone’s sensors pick up something that is questionable, the drone can be instructed to return to the central location for downloading of data from these sensors.  Instantaneously a replacement drone sent to take its place and monitor the site.  Keeping a continuous cycle going.

A few drones programmed to monitor for the presence of methane can do the work in hours that it took BP employee’s days if not months.  Especially if the refinery was in a remote place with limited access.  Drones have helped to improve the oil companies’ ability to respond to potential risks before they become major disasters.

NASA Developed Sensors

BP is using very high tech sensors that NASA designed for MARS exploration.  These sensors allow for the capture of data from gas clouds.  While patrolling the pipelines and offshore platforms if a gas cloud is detected the data can be assessed real-time and repair tickets entered immediately.

Having this technology available provides the ability to detect and stop greenhouse gases such as methane from reaching our atmosphere.  If methane is escapes into the atmosphere, it warms the air around it quickly; thus causing immediate climate warming conditions.

Image Fixed Wing Drone

The value in using the NASA developed sensors is our ability to stop or vastly contain these leaks.  Advancements in drones and supporting technologies are providing scientists with the evidence and solutions to resolve many of the global warming factors.

Getting early detection provides not only a way to stop and reverse the effects of the leaks, but also a means to devise better containment so as not to allow the gas to leak into the environment.  We can never create true disaster or incident proof conditions, but learning and improving for future occurrences should be the goal.

Video Imaging Spectral Radiometry (VISR)

The process that BP and other oil companies uses a burning process.  This process is the burning of the gases that are expelled during the refinement process.  The burning process is call flaring as it uses a controlled flame to do the burning.Image of VISR

The VISR is able to monitor the emissions to verify how effective the process is at removing the pollutants.  The VISR flare measures the Infrared Images to see the level of methane released.  The same process can be used on the refineries to monitor for leaks and any escaping methane gases. 

This technology is going a long way in helping with the fight to reduce hydrocarbon emissions in our atmosphere.

Smart Glasses

Along with the drones and NASA sensors BP has introduced the use of Smart Glasses to the mix of technology.  The Smart Glasses are used to read the data from the sensors in the field and transmit it back to a central data facility.

Image of Smart GlassesA company called Fieldbit manufactures the Smart Glasses.  These smart glasses are designed to provide real-time video to their central data center.  These glasses are used to read the data stored on the drone’s sensors, but they do much more also.

All of BP’s field service operations staff in Texas, Wyoming, and New Mexico use the smart glasses.  The specialists in the data center are able to observe via live feed what the field technician sees.  The specialists can then provide corrective instructions to the technician via the smart lenses on the glasses.

This way as the technicians find or are assigned issues they don’t have to guess what the fix should be.  With the information passing back and forth between the field techs and the data center corrective actions are specific to the issue at hand.  This stops the guesswork during troubleshooting that wastes times looking for the root cause.

Having the detailed information available provides a starting point and faster solution to problems.  The faster a solution is found and issue resolved saves the company money.

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