Asset integrity is becoming ever more important in the oil and gas sector. In an industry where, globally, OPEX is being driven down and assets are being pushed to the max, it is critical that operations must remain efficient as well as safe.
Many assets are reaching the end of their design life and in more and more cases, operating beyond their expected lifespan. As these assets age, increasingly stringent inspection, maintenance and repair programmes have become crucial.
However, oil and gas operators face increasing pressure to manage this at a lower cost. Part of this comes through more frequent inspection, to monitor condition and ensure repair and maintenance takes place at the most appropriate time. Most inspection techniques are not only expensive, however, but also time-consuming and often high-risk, with personnel being sent into confined spaces or working at height. Many inspections also require operational shutdowns, which can potentially result in lost production costing operators millions of pounds.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – also known as drones – have already proven their worth as an innovative inspection method which dramatically reduces safety risks and maximises uptime, hence increasing production efficiency.
UAVs are fitted with high definition video, still and thermal cameras to inspect tall, inaccessible and live structures. The data collected is then converted into valuable information by qualified oil and gas inspection engineers who compile full inspection reports.
The ability to also conduct multiple workscope inspections in a matter of days, including splash zone, risers, elevations, internal tanks, overboard structures, flare and derrick, whilst they are online, allows the operator to better plan maintenance and turnarounds and results in increased facility uptime and reduced deferment.
In a market still adjusting to a new, lower oil price, an asset integrity solution offering multi-million pound cost savings cannot be ignored.
Asset integrity in the Middle East
In 2015, DNV GL – Oil & Gas reported that more than 70% of offshore oil and gas structures in the Middle East were older than 25 years, with some even exceeding 40 years.
Older assets have the potential to cause an increased financial strain and safety risk, and require essential asset integrity to mitigate these risks. Cyberhawk Innovations, the world leader in drone inspection and survey, has proven these benefits in a working environment time and time again.
Headquartered in Scotland, UK and with international offices in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Houston, Cyberhawk carried out the very first UAV industrial inspection in 2009, and has since safely completed more than 18,000 commercial flights.
In the oil and gas sector, Cyberhawk has worked for all six super-majors, many national oil companies and a growing list of major service companies. The company’s track record includes more than 25 world firsts, with recent highlights including the world’s first internal cargo tank inspection and the first ever commercial oil and gas inspection in Qatar. This builds upon the company undertaking Middle East’s very first oil and gas UAV inspection back in 2012.
Qatar’s first live flare inspection
A natural gas producing company based in Qatar called upon Cyberhawk to conduct the first ever commercial flare inspection in the country.
The workscope involved the inspection of 136m high flares at an onshore oil and gas refinery.
The commercial use of UAVs in Qatar had previously been heavily regulated by the Qatari government due to concerns over security of airspace and privacy of citizens. However, Cyberhawk embarked on an extensive campaign lobbying the government to explain the vast benefits of utilising UAVs. After a thorough assessment of the company’s previous Middle East projects, a panel of authorities granted an exclusive permit for Cyberhawk to conduct the workscope.
An experienced team of two from Cyberhawk, including an industry qualified inspection engineer and oil and gas qualified inspection pilot, was mobilised to undertake the work and took just two days to conduct the full inspection. Alternative methods such as rope access or scaffolding would have required months for completion, shutdown of the facility and also would have increased risks to personnel, such as working at height.
The direct impact of UAV inspection
It is important to remember that safety should not be sacrificed for low costs. Aside from the financial savings and efficiencies to be made, the use of UAVs also ensures reduced working at height and in hazardous spaces, as well as reduced requirement for offshore bed space, reduced use of standby boats and less helicopter usage.
In a recent analysis carried out by a leading international E&P company, it was noted that Cyberhawk’s UAV inspection technique proved 20 times faster and half the cost of traditional inspection methods, such as rope access.
In the Middle East, where smarter solutions for asset lifetime extension are being sought, awareness of these benefits is increasing and UAVs for inspection have emerged as one important piece of the puzzle.
As more and more assets are pushed to their limits, ensuring integrity translates into more reliable operations, improved efficiency, safer working and the delivery of production targets. The innovation offered by UAVs will continue to be central to the growth and sustainability of asset integrity programmes.