HOUSTON — In the Alaskan tundra, inspecting a pipeline isn’t easy. Most pipelines don’t follow what few roads are there, so trucks often aren’t an option. And using low-flying airplanes can be unsafe to pilots in snowy, windy weather.
Now, though, the emergence of sophisticated, pilotless aircraft is presenting energy companies with another possibility for keeping an eye on operations in the Arctic and other harsh environments where they often work.
Unmanned aerial vehicles flying over pipelines while outfitted with special sensors could detect leaks quickly. And that’s not the only potential application.
Energy companies are testing drones to inspect hard-to-reach spaces like refinery flare stacks, offshore platforms and even wind turbine blades in an effort to save time and boost worker safety.
As the Federal Aviation Administration develops rules that will govern the devices, oil and gas companies around the world are on the forefront, working closely with the drone industry to test the unmanned aircraft.
Some in the energy sector say it’s only a matter of time before unmanned aerial vehicles become a common — and even integral — part of their business.