Professional Viewpoint: How Drones Overcome Major Obstacles in Pipeline Surveys

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Drones are significant tools in pipeline surveys – get an professional surveyor’s insider look at why, and how to optimize the ROI.

The following is a guest post by Dustin Price, a licensed land surveyor and the Operations Manager at Landpoint. 

For pipeline surveys, there’s a lot that needs to be considered: speed, accuracy, budget, and safety. Pipeline surveys occur at critical junctures of oil field and pipeline projects. A delay or inaccuracy during an initial survey could cost a company millions of dollars, both in wasted time and resources. UAVs can help pipeline surveying overcome some major obstacles, and the advantages of drone technology in this field are only increasing as the technology becomes more advanced.

Balancing Speed and Safety with a Pipeline Survey

Before drones, pipeline surveys had to be done using one of two methods: ground surveys or manned aerial surveys. Ground surveys are time-consuming, while manned aerial surveys are expensive, and both are potentially dangerous. UAVs make it possible to complete an entire pipeline survey quickly and without any danger to a manned aerial crew or ground crew.

Speed and safety are incredibly important when it comes to pipeline projects. The faster a pipeline survey is completed, the faster ground can be broken and the project can move forward. Delays during a pipeline survey project can be costly both in terms of time and money, and pipeline surveys are continuously becoming more complex due to increased regulations and requirements.

Improving upon safety of any construction project is desirable, in terms of both morale and liability. There is always a risk, however small, that both aerial and ground crews can potentially become injured when completing surveys, an issue that UAVs are able to mitigate. Further, safety issues with a project site will often lead directly to delays, another way in which UAVs are able to save a pipeline survey team time – and money.

Accessing Potentially Difficult Terrain with UAVs

Pipeline project managers have complete significant amounts of research to find new routes, given that pipelines sometimes need to negotiate right of way with other pipelines and must always try to avoid damaging the environment and protected regions. There are some areas of terrain where it would be difficult or even dangerous to send a ground survey crew. Areas can also be problematic to assess for manned aerial crews, if the area is overgrown or close to vertical terrain like mountains or canyons.

UAVs can fly low to the ground and can hover, getting accurate readings of virtually any location. With the power of LiDAR scanning, UAVs can even scan through cloth and light brush, preventing the need for ground surveys.

Producing Useful and Accurate Information with Drones

Drone technology can provide high resolution scans, often in as little turnaround time as a couple of days. With drones, scans can be sent in with accurate GPS tracking, making them useful both for initial surveying and maintenance and repair reporting. If a drone survey company also has the ability to process its data in-house, the turnaround time can be even faster, as it isn’t relying upon third-party services.

Information from drones can be used for highly accurate simulations, making it possible to identify potential issues and cost savings with greater degrees of accuracy.

Drone technology is one of the most exciting new developments for construction and industrial work, including the development of oil field projects. We can only imagine what the future might hold in terms of innovative new developments for drone technology regarding oil field surveys and maintenance.

UAVs are increasingly being used even after a pipeline has been completed to improve pipeline maintenance and repairs. When used in conjunction with GPS software and sensors, UAVs can find issues with existing pipelines and report them with extreme accuracy – without ever exposing human beings to unknown dangers like gas leaks. As time goes on, it’s likely that UAVs are going to become even more enmeshed in the way that modern oil and gas companies operate, providing ways to both survey for pipelines and maintain pipelines once they are laid down.

Dustin Price is a licensed land surveyor and the Operations Manager at Landpoint. He leads the company’s technical approach to delivering professional surveying services by providing tailored solutions using UAV technology.    


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