Drones in Oil and Gas

15 September 2020 | Oil, Gas & Engineering

Emergency Response Experiences in the Field

Drones are an excellent tool for emergency response at an oil and gas pipeline event.  Skyfire’s drone services were utilized several years ago when a large amount of product leaked from a pipeline spill.  Within just 1 hour our crew and equipment were on the road from Atlanta to support our client. Soon after checking in at incident command to receive our tasks from the operations section chief, we were officially to work.  Multiple helicopters were being utilized so we coordinated with air operations and the manned aircraft teams in order to maintain a high level of safety.  After radio frequencies were agreed upon we made our way to the scene 21 miles away.

Once arriving on site it became apparent this was not your typical drone job.  It was hot, dusty, and it didn’t rain for the following 3 weeks!  Fire resistant clothing and PPE were required and the environment was challenging for both our crew and our equipment.  Checklists were important to stay focused and equipment inspections each morning and evening were added to increase safety.  The response was scaled up quickly and contractors were everywhere trying to respond to their own tasks.  Travel in the area of the incident was very difficult.  In the following days many gravel roads were created to keep the equipment moving smoothly.  In the beginning we chose the highest point of the right-of-way in order to maximize our line of site to the drones we flew.  The location was right next to a heavily trafficked gravel road and every time a contractor with a high powered radio system in their vehicle drove by our signal would be disrupted.  It was obvious we needed to find a quieter place to set up our operations.  In the beginning of the project we took photos and videos of the activity, staging areas, and frac tanks.  In late afternoon we returned to the incident command center to organize the data and share with the approved department.  It was amazing how this imagery brought the scene to the command center, as many of these people would never actually see the site for themselves.  People responded quickly to the imagery but we knew we could do more for the planning and GIS department in the form of drone mapping data.

We proposed a plan to map the construction area and the request was immediately approved.  The next day we completed our usual tasks and then switched to mapping.  This lined up perfectly with the sun in order to minimize shadows.  We were able to see our larger drone for 4,500 ft and that was just beyond the distance from which the client wanted topographical data.  We planned a mapping mission with 5 passes over the right-of-way in order to give our photogrammetric software the best data possible.  With just 2 flights we were able to map the entire area, a true testament to the efficiency of drone mapping.  At the end of the day we would begin post processing which took 6-7 hours.  Each morning we’d wake up and share the outputs with the GIS department who’d begin taking linear measurements as well as soil volume calculations.  The drone’s topographical scans were brought to them in digital form allowing them to evaluate the low areas in which the product would likely flow if rains began.  This information was then used by engineers to repair the pipeline and get the product flowing again.  Back at IC the blurry satellite maps that were on the walls started to look a lot better due to our high resolution orthomosaic maps that came from our mapping flights.  Each day’s progress would appear the following morning and would aid in determining most appropriate next steps.

It was very satisfying to see people respond to our data collection efforts and to know our work was giving them actionable data to which they could respond.  After the 4th day on site we had to ask where all the helicopters had gone. “They are no longer needed as your photos, videos, and maps are what we really need.  Everyone is accustomed to seeing a drone above and they are less disruptive to operations on the ground.,” was the answer we received.  The job posed many challenges we had never experienced and we can proudly report 0 safety related incidents on the project.