Robotic and drone technology could transform the offshore oil market

The rise and development of new technology have encouraged the oil and gas industry to integrate new devices and systems into the market in an attempt to enhance efficiency, production levels and reduce overall costs.

Offshore Worker

Oil businesses are now exploring the potential of utilising robotic technology and drones to perform difficult and hazardous tasks in offshore locations. These devices can reduce costs, improve overall performance and safety by minimising the amount of exposure to dangerous conditions.

The oil major, BP, is currently using a robotic system to inspect the Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The magnetic device is equipped with an innovative camera system. The inspection robot is also supported with additional drones and cameras that can record every specific detail. Executives at BP have suggested that this technology can reduce inspections by nearly fifty percent and also eliminate the need for people to work in hazardous conditions.

Since the implementation of the robotic-drone project at Thunder Horse, BP has now been looking at developing additional projects at several other nearby platforms. At Cherry Point refinery in Washington State, robotic devices inspect systems by using ultrasound technology to identify any faults or splits on the surface. The robot system has decreased inspections times to approximately one hour, from a previous figure of 23 hours generally spent to physically inspect the units.

With the growing development of robotic systems and clear improvements to efficiency and cost, some professionals are concerned how new technology could affect future employment opportunities. Leading professionals, however, have indicated that this should not be a significant concern to industry employees. The current costs for robotic development and other technological devices means many businesses are unlikely to adopt these systems anytime soon. The larger businesses, however, are driving ahead with new technology and robotic systems. BP has been working on a seismic source technology device that is capable of measuring low-frequency signals which could assist the business is predicting remaining amounts of oil in various sites.

Norwegian business Statoil is working on remote-controlled platforms for their smaller sites. In the last year, Statoil developed its first unmanned site, located at Oseberg H platform. French business Total, along with the oil and gas technology centre in Aberdeen are working on testing the first autonomous offshore robot system. The project aims to use a mobile robot for the unmanned inspection of the onshore Shetland Gas Plant and the offshore Alwyn platform. 

Dave Mackinnon, the head of technology and innovation at Total E&P has suggested that the new technology will enhance safety, decrease costs and extend the life of activities in the North Sea region. Mackinnon believes robots present a new and exciting time for the oil and gas offshore sector.

Within the offshore drilling market, GE and Noble Corporation have collaborated to develop the first digital drilling platform which intends to enhance drilling activity and reduce the operational expenditure by a fifth across targeted equipment. The digital platform collects data that measures predictive models.

With the industry continuously looking to improve efficiency, costs and safety, the use of robots and drones are likely to become more common within the oil and gas market.

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