Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Drones could cut costs in searching for oil and gas field hazards; technology still lacking

Drones could significantly cut the costs of searching by air for hazards in abandoned or forgotten oil and gas fields, Laura Legere reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Currently, helicopters equipped with magnetic sensors are used to fly over plots in Pennsylvania at a cost of about $2,000 per hour. Unmanned aircraft can do the same job at a projected cost of $3. (Gazette photo by Darrell Sapp: This Identified Technologies drones is customized to collect images, data or gas readings) 

Right now the wait is on for someone to develop a magnetic sensor just as sensitive as the full-sized helicopter’s but small, light and energy-efficient enough to fit on the remote-controlled machine without hindering its flight, Legere writes. Richard Hammack, a physical scientist for the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh, told Legere, “Companies are developing now much smaller magnetic sensors that are lighter, and they have less power draw. As soon as that’s developed we’re going to give them a ride.”

Lux Research released a report in October that "found that the market for commercial uses of drones will grow to $1.7 billion in 2025, with oil and gas applications as one of the largest segments—worth $247 million—after agriculture, hobbyists and utilities," Legere writes.

While the oil and gas industry waits for technology to catch up, they are also waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to release rules for commercial drone use. The National Transportation Safety Board ruled in November that drones are aircraft and are subject to existing aviation laws. Until FAA rules are put in place, most commercial use of drones remains illegal. Rules are not expected until September. (Read more)

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