By Thomas Miller
These days drones are catching a lot more attention than from just hobbyists and areal photographers. Even the Secret Service announced plans recently to fly Unmanned Aircraft Systems into otherwise restricted airspace in and around Washington D.C. during the wee hours of the morning. Why? To discover where potential vulnerabilities are and plan ways to disarm hostile craft.
In 2013, the Michigan State Police spent nearly $160,000 on an Aeyron Sky Ranger and have been training for over a year on how to use it. They say applications could include multi-vehicle accident investigations, assisting in finding missing people, dealing with disasters and emergencies and conducting clandestine surveillance.
The oil and gas industry has been jumping on the drone bandwagon as well. However, commercial regulation is still an unanswered question. Last summer, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued BP a permit to fly drones along pipeline routes in and around Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. BP says their commitment to the North Slope includes monitoring drilling sites and trying to avert problems before they turn into disasters.
The San Antonio Express News reported last year that drones could impact the Texas economy to the tune of $6.5 billion dollars over the next ten years, while theAssociation of Unmanned Vehicles International puts the number at closer to $8 billion. Texas A&M University’s Corpus Christi campus was named one of six FAA test sites for drone research, a move assisted by former Governor Rick Perry before leaving office.
Exactly how drones could benefit the oil and gas industry is still on the drawing board. Of primary concern now is early detection of potential methane leaks. With new and stricter restrictions looming over the industry the upcoming decade, if drones could scan drilling sites and pipelines with sensors to pick up excess levels of methane, that one application could save the industry potentially billions of dollars in fines, plus better implementation of new standards.Read more