This is one in a series of articles about how ConocoPhillips global business units around the globe are using drones to safeguard personnel and property, minimize environmental impact and cut costs.
by Jan Hester
In 2015, ConocoPhillips U.K. began using drones in the Southern North Sea (SNS) to conduct over-the-side inspections on its unmanned platforms, reducing the safety risk to personnel as well as costs associated with offshore inspections.
“If you wanted to visually inspect a jacket, you needed to put a three-man inspection team on ropes to access the structure,” said U.K. Asset Integrity & Technical Safety Manager Mike Spalding, who oversees the inspection program. “Now that’s not necessary, so we also don’t need a standby vessel. Caged drones can go into the structure underneath the platform deck, typically difficult areas for people to access.”
While many of the SNS platforms are being decommissioned, there are still situations where drones could be used, such as a regulator requiring monitoring in cold stack.
“The platforms were not totally removed — there are still structures in the water,” Spalding said. “They’ve been left in a condition where manning the asset is not required. If we needed to do an inspection, we could go out with a small seafaring vessel and a drone pilot and have a quick look. We could cover the entire field in a couple of days without having to man the platforms.”
Initially, the U.K. team thought that unmanned aerial systems’ (UAS) visual quality would only be good enough for general visual inspections. After initial inspections were completed, however, the resulting images were of high enough quality to be considered a “close visual examination.”