Boost efficiency and cut costs—the oil industry’s favorite buzzwords during the latest downturn—continue to be the key talking points of the companies in the post-oil-price-crash world.
The rise of technology and the crazed race for innovation and disruption in virtually any 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. Those gadgets save costs and 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 that they are taking safety extremely seriously than BP, after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
BP uses a small 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. The inspection work is also complemented by drones with cameras that 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 remove people from unsafe harsh offshore environments.
“The efficiencies we gain by collecting data this way are significant. The safety factor is obvious,” Dave Truch, a technology director in BP’s Digital Innovation Organization (DIO), told Reuters.
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 State 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 just one hour from 23 man-hours people had to physically spend inside the hydrocracker unit during a planned shutdown.
Offshore services providers say they are not worried that robots would oust people from oil jobs, Ryan King, a technical sales representative for Oceaneering International, tells Reuters.
The high upfront costs for robotics and other technology could be a hard sell for smaller businesses, but the largest oil companies have the resource to race to innovate.
BP has created Wolfspar, a seismic source technology that can ‘see’ beneath the salt in the Gulf of Mexico. The tech acquires low-frequency seismic signals and could help BP to estimate how much oil there is still left in Atlantis, Thunder Horse, and Mad Dog developments, BP executives say.
In Europe, Norway’s Statoil is developing remote-controlled platforms for small and medium-sized platforms. Last summer, Statoil installed its first unmanned wellhead platform, the Oseberg H platform on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. The unmanned platform will be tied to the Oseberg Field Center and remotely controlled from there.
France’s Total and the Oil & Gas Technology Centre of Aberdeen, Scotland, will trial over the next 18 months a world’s first autonomous offshore robot. The project will develop and trial a mobile robot for autonomous operational inspection of facilities on Total’s onshore Shetland Gas Plant and the offshore Alwyn platform. The Technology Centre and Total are developing the robot with Austrian manufacturer taurob and TU Darmstadt university in Germany, who collaborated to win Total’s ARGOS (Autonomous Robots for Gas and Oil Sites) challenge in 2017.
“We are on the cusp of delivering technology that will improve safety, reduce costs and even prolong the life of North Sea operations. Robots represent an exciting new paradigm for the oil and gas offshore industry and Total is proud to be part of it,” said Dave Mackinnon, Head of Technology & Innovation for Total E&P UK.
In offshore drilling, GE and Noble Corporation 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 the oil industry that is increasingly using robots and drones to cut expenditures and improve operations and safety.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com