Energy companies, facing a future of lower oil prices, are increasingly adopting drones to inspect offshore drilling rigs and other operations as they seek to increase efficiency, cut costs and improve worker safety.
This development has provided a growing market for companies that provide drones and develop the software to collect and manage data gathered from inspections. Recently, Royal Dutch Shell awarded a five-year, multi-million-dollar contract to the Scottish company Cyberhawk, which has offices in Houston, to help the European oil major monitor both offshore and onshore operations.
The U.S. market for drones has grown quickly since 2016, when the Federal Aviation Administration adopted rules to expand the use of drones beyond hobbyists to commercial applications. Cyberhawk and other drone companies have used the opportunities opened by the FAA to build their businesses, particularly in the energy industry, where drones are used to monitor drilling sites, pipelines and refineries.
Drones and drone-based technology are becoming increasingly attractive to an oil and gas industry looking to lower costs and remain profitable in a time of tight budgets and persistently low oil prices.
Last year alone, more than 108,000 commercial operators registered their drones with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA projects the number of commercial drones flying in U.S. airspace will more than double to 828,000 by 2024 from 385,000 in 2019.
Besides the oil and gas, drones are used in a variety of industries, including construction, agriculture, security and mining.
“Drones provide a quick and efficient way of performing aerial surveillance and asset inspection,” said Ravindra Puranik, an analyst who studies the use of emerging technologies in the oil and gas industry for the London research firm GlobalData. “They cost less than a manned aircraft, are easier to deploy, and can be fitted with different types of payload for data capture.”
Drones employ technologies such as cameras that can capture multiple high-resolution photos used in mapping large areas, laser systems similar to radar and infrared camera and lasers, which can detect methane leaks along pipeline routes. In addition, different drone configurations — including quadcopters with…
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