The oil and gas industry is expected to drive the global drone market to $A140 billion in 2030.
Advances in imaging, sensing and data transmission mean their use has expanded from capturing pictures and video to recording corrosion, weathering and emissions.
Data and analytics company GlobalData forecasts commercial drones will take off in an industry required to monitor operations over vast areas.
Drones have been conventionally flown at industrial sites within sight of the pilot on the ground.
But aviation regulators including Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) are looking at how beyond visual line-of-sight or BVLOS models could be safely used by commercial operators.
Gas explorer and exporter Origin Energy has been using drones for the past five years for asset inspections, checking progress on projects and monitoring air emissions or vegetation health.
“We are currently working on expanding our CASA permissions to allow us to fly beyond visual line-of-sight in order to carry out missions across large areas of our sites,” a company spokesman told AAP.
These may include long-range asset inspections, monitoring of corridors or pipelines and emergency response.
Origin’s fleet of aerial robots range from lithium-ion battery powered DJI Mavic Minis to large fixed-wing mapping drones as well as high-resolution imagery cameras, thermal cameras and gas detectors.
More than 30 people across Origin have been trained as pilots.
“We are also looking into drone-in-a-box solutions – an emerging form of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle technology that uses drones that deploy from and return to self-contained landing boxes,” the spokesman said.
Research company GlobalData’s latest report, Drones in Oil and Gas, shows regulatory changes across key markets including the United States are making it easier for them to be used by the industry.
“In the past decade, the oil and gas industry tentatively experimented with drone deployment to monitor field equipment scattered over large areas,” GlobalData analyst Ravindra Puranik said.
The industry then began collaborating with manufacturers to develop devices suitable for the industry.
Newer uses were identified and implemented for them, such as methane management, he said.
(Australian Associated Press)