Maximize Oil Field Safety with UAS

Profile view of the excavation siteUAS aerial photo of spill response excavationWhether a gas plant, production facility or pipeline corridor, Michigan’s oil field is surrounded by unique safety risks that are managed by an increasing amount of paperwork. Pressure and temperatures are high, exposure to hazardous atmospheres or TENORM may be present, and those on site must be on constant alert to plan and maintain safe practice. But what about those not on site? Advances in UAS (unmanned aerial system) technology have made it possible to complete survey work nearly remotely, eliminating the need to physically access higher-risk areas.

Top reasons for utilizing UAS include a less intrusive and less invasive practice, while increasing safety, efficiency, and accuracy. Oil and gas producers can save an estimated 20% in cost and receive more comprehensive survey data with unlimited access to it in the future. Once the data is captured via UAS, it can be referred to and utilized for future needs without additional mobilizations.

Facility Site Maps

Consider a production facility map, for example. When surveyed conventionally, a crew may spend an 8-hour day traversing the site on foot to shoot points. With UAS, a site can be flown in as quickly as twenty minutes after ground control points have been set and measured. The data is accurate within 0.2 feet, and includes horizontal, and vertical (elevation) data, making it possible to produce a 3-D model with considerable ease.  

Spill Area Excavation Limits

In addition to plant, facility, or pipeline project maps, UAS is also an effective tool for efficient mapping of spill area impacts and response excavation limits (see photos). In many cases, excavation depth and or other factors will increase safety risks for conventional survey methods. In cases where it’s not safe or impossible for workers to access the work area, UAS can.

Environmental Compliance

Lastly, UAS has a variety of uses regarding environmental compliance. UAS can measure stack heights required for air quality permitting, create efficient maps related to SPCC plans, and assist with screening project areas for other permitting needs such as wetlands or soil erosion and sedimentation control.

Although extremely effective in many situations, like any other technology, UAS has limitations. It can only measure what it can see, so UAS is not as effective in heavily wooded areas, such as some pipeline corridors, or in snow-covered conditions. With the latter, aerial photography via UAS can still be useful, but the accuracy suffers.

In all cases, UAS utilizes current GPS systems to produce extreme accuracy in measurement. For an option that delivers considerable efficiency and accuracy, while keeping workers removed from harm’s way, UAS is a strong addition to the oil and gas toolbox.