Where is the place of drone inspections in Oil & Gas Integrity Management Systems at present?

It is important to set a drone inspection up for success through close collaboration between the drone service provider and the Client or their nominated Integrity/Inspection body.

This will ensure the quality of data is maximised to allow engineers to make key decisions as to a components fitness for continued service or to identify any follow-up work. At present, drone inspections in the Oil and Gas industry are being utilised in three distinct but broad areas:

1. Inspection of live equipment which present hazards to manned inspection, i.e. live flares, exhausts, communication towers.
2. Health, safety and environment (HS&E) – potential dropped objects, weather damage etc.
3. To support the Annual Topside Inspection Plan.

Drone inspections are ideally suited for a visual inspection “sweep” of those structural and pressure system components located in hard to reach areas, such as flares, towers, risers, jackets, cranes, helidecks etc. The results from the inspection can be used to target the follow-up inspection/repairs team to those areas which merit further investigation. Just as important, however, is the need to inspect those areas not observed by the drone.

As discussed in the last blog, drone inspections can gather a large amount of data in a short period of time and reporting is done back in the office, minimising time allocated on the Integrated Asset Plan (IAP). It is conceivable that what a traditional 3-man inspection team do in 15 days, might be reduced to a 7-day campaign with the use of a drone “sweep”. So the efficiency drive to the annual inspection plan is a reduction from 45 man-days to 21 man-days. Include the 2-man drone team for 3 days and that is a reduction from 45 to 27 man-days, a saving of 18 man-days. And that’s for one scope of work. If there are 5 scopes in the yearly plan, we could potentially be saving 90 man-days. Whilst these figures are generic, and each work scope needs to be reviewed on its individual merits, it provides a scale of the efficiency drive that might be made.

So are drone inspections being maximised to realise the full benefits they can bring to the Integrated Asset Plan?

The answer is – “Not yet”.
At present, it is arguable that the vast majority of time we are employed is somewhere between the 28 and 90-day gates of the Integrated Asset Plan (IAP). In fact, we have even been mobilised at the “execute” phase to complete unfinished work scopes and support deferrals of inspections and maintenance activities.

Until drone inspections become viewed as an integral tool of the Integrity Management System (IMS) and are incorporated into the RBI/WSE stages of the IMS, the full benefits will not be realised. The MMS and Integrated Activity Plan will continue to show a large number of hours for a campaigned inspection of 15 days.

Going back to the potential savings that have been discussed in our generic example, that is a 3-man repair or inspection team for an additional month who could be working on those areas which really require focus, particularly on ageing assets where greater resource competition occurs. we don’t think we have ever completed an annual topside inspection plan in 12 months. Inevitably we defer inspections on non-hazardous piping inspections due to the lower safety and environmental consequence of failure but these always have a business consequence of failure and impact operational efficiency.

There are signs of an increase in the confidence with drone inspections and we believe it won’t be long until we see some Operator’s embrace drone inspections as a key element of the Integrity Management System.

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