- June 1, 2018: Vol. 5, Number 6

Big Oil turns to robots and drones

by Tsvetana Paraskova

Boosting efficiency and cutting costs — the oil industry’s favorite buzzwords during the latest downturn — continue to be the key talking points following the crash in oil prices.

The rise of technology, and the crazed race for innovation and disruption in virtually every industry, has not left the oil sector sitting on its hands. Oil companies are now turning to robots and drones to perform dangerous tasks in harsh offshore environments. These gadgets save money, improve performance and improve safety by reducing the exposure of people to dangerous tasks and situations.

In the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, no one is keener to show they are taking safety extremely seriously than BP after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

BP uses a robot, the size of a small dog, to inspect the Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The so-called magnetic crawler is equipped with strong rare-earth magnets and a high-definition camera. This inspection work is complemented by drones with cameras, which capture the smallest details. According to BP executives, robots and drones can perform inspections in roughly half the time it would take people to do it and, at the same time, keep people from unsafe, harsh offshore environments.

After the pilot robot-drone program at Thunder Horse, BP is considering similar programs at its neighboring Na Kika, Mad Dog and Atlantis platforms.

BP also uses robots and drones at its Cherry Point refinery in Washington, where robots inspect vessels, such as the hydrocracker reactor, by using ultrasound technology to spot microscopic cracks in the vessel walls. The robot has reduced inspection time to only one hour from 23 man-hours, which people had to physically spend inside the hydrocracker unit during a planned shutdown.

The high upfront costs for robotics and other technologies could be a hard sell for smaller businesses, but the largest oil companies have the resources to innovate.

BP has created Wolfspar, a seismic source technology that can “see” beneath the salt in the Gulf of Mexico. The device acquires low-frequency seismic signals and could help BP to estimate how much oil is left in the Atlantis, Thunder Horse and Mad Dog developments, BP executives say.

In Europe, Norway’s Statoil is developing remote-controlled small and medium-size platforms. This past summer, Statoil installed its first unmanned wellhead platform, the Oseberg H platform on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, which will be tied to the Oseberg Field Center and remotely controlled from there.

France’s Total and The Oil & Gas Technology Center of Aberdeen, Scotland, will trial over the next 18 months the world’s first autonomous offshore robot, for autonomous operational inspection of facilities on Total’s onshore Shetland Gas Plant and the offshore Alwyn platform. The two organizations are developing the robot with Austrian manufacturer taurob and Germany’s Technical University of Darmstadt, who collaborated to win Total’s ARGOS — Autonomous Robots for Gas and Oil Sites — challenge in 2017.

In offshore drilling, General Electric Co. and Noble Corp. have partnered to launch the world’s first digital drilling vessel, aiming to improve drilling efficiency and cut operational expenditure by 20 percent across the targeted equipment. The digital vessel collects data that is later analyzed to create predictive models.

Efficiency, costs and safety continue to be priorities in an oil industry that is increasingly using robots and drones to cut expenditures and improve operations.

Tsvetana Paraskova is a writer with the U.S.-based consulting firm Divergente. This article first appeared on the site and has been republished with its permission. Read the complete article at this link:

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