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A considerable part of the global drone market’s growth can be attributed to the oil and gas industry

It is set to reach as high as US$89.6bn in 2030, as per forecasts by GlobalData. Oil and gas depend on drones for a variety of applications, from platform and equipment inspections, leak detection in midstream assets, to emergency response and material handling. With time and renewed focus on sustainability, this has evolved to include new roles such as methane detection, extracting enhanced subsea metrology or floating production, storage and offloading system (FPSO)-specific inspection capabilities. 

Speaking of industry-specific drone deployment, Ravindra Puranik, oil and gas analyst at GlobalData, said, "In the past decade, the oil and gas industry tentatively experimented with drone deployment to monitor field equipment scattered over large areas. The industry then began collaborating with drone manufacturers to develop devices suitable for industry-specific deployment. Over time, newer use cases were identified and implemented for drones, such as methane management." 

Importance of drone use in the sector emerged once again as oil major TotalEnergies launched its latest innovation, AUSEA gas analyser, at COP28. Touted by the company to be the most accurate technology in the world, the airborne ultralight spectrometer for environmental applications (AUSEA) will be set off on a drone to carry out emissions measurement campaigns on facilities such as Angola's Sonangol and also in Nigeria, among other national oil companies (NOC). Marking this as a 'concrete step' in line with the industry's ambitious aim to reach Zero Methane Emissions by 2030, Patrick Pouyanné, chairman and CEO of TotalEnergies, said during its launch, "For the Oil & Gas industry, cutting methane emissions from operations is a priority as technologies are available. The first step is to measure emissions, asset by asset. By making our AUSEA technology available to our partners, TotalEnergies is taking a concrete step to encourage the whole industry, including National Companies, to aim for zero methane emissions." 

From aerial to subsea, drones are making sustainability easy for the oil and gas sector as operators are relying on them for cutting down emissions and other environmental hazards such as gas leak detections. Recently ADNOC deployed Edge's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) across its onshore and offshore operations to detect greenhouse gas leakages, while conducting detailed inspection of site assets and infrastructure. "This innovative partnership underscores how we are leveraging technology to accelerate decarbonisation across our operations. Equipped with the latest imaging technology, EDGE’s unmanned aerial vehicles will support us in stopping greenhouse gas emissions. These drones can cover vast areas and will reduce the need to mobilize equipment and personnel to potentially harmful environments," said Saleh Hashem Alhashmi, director, group commercial and in-country value, ADNOC.

In November last year, MODEC and Terra Drone Corp signed an agreement to collaborate on the technical development of inspection drones for FPSOs. This partnership will allow them to combine MODEC's expertise in FPSO design and operation with Terra Drone's patented Terra UT Drone. Its ultrasonic testing capabilities for non-destructive testing will ensure precise and effective inspections in MODEC's mature FPSOs that are in operation for more than 20 years. The deployment of Terra Drone in these facilities will omit all kinds of occupational hazards that come with manual inspection. 

In a latest instance of subsea trials, ocean services provider DeepOcean deployed an autonomous inspection drone (AID) which is based on a Rover MK2 ROV from Argus Remote Systems, with upgraded hardware and software packages. The AID was the creation of DeepOcean's digital twin platform, mission planner software and live view feature; Argus' navigation algorithm, and Vaarst's machine vision camera 'Subslam 2x' for autonomous navigation and data collection. Data inspected by the AID is streamed onshore and the position of the vehicle is continuously streamed back into the digital twin to ensure high data quality and increase situational awareness. 

Measuring 1.25x 0.85 x 0.77 m and weighing 320 kgs in air, the AID can not only cover water depths down to 3,000 m, but also fly in DP mode with both station keeping and remote control functionalities. Developed with intensive research and funded by Aker BP, the AID is expected to disrupt the subsea inspections field.