Industry turns to robotics for inspection, leak detection

Aug. 1, 2021

The offshore industry is increasingly turning to robotics, drones, and other technologies for remote inspection and monitoring of facility integrity and leaks above and below the water line. Development of these technologies is ongoing, but early indication from industry users is these tools are improving inspection efficiency and reducing personnel safety risk. One area of application that is gaining greater interest lately is in assessing methane leaks.

While industry greenhouse gas emissions are tightly regulated, some companies are targeting lower levels of carbon intensity to meet long-term corporate objectives. Companies are also anticipating stronger regulations.  

A portion of an offshore producer’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from methane leaks from gas-power generation at the production platform. The numbers vary by company, but some levels are as high as 85% of overall emissions from the facility.

To be fair, methane emissions from offshore oil and gas operations are only a marginal contributor to US overall energy production emissions. Moreover, US GoM production has approximately half of the carbon intensity per barrel compared to the other producing basins in the US, according to a recent NOIA report.

Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering strengthening existing requirements for “new, modified and reconstructed oil and gas sources, and proposing new requirements to reduce methane pollution from existing oil and gas sources.” EPA released this statement following US Congressional approval to restore environmental regulations to limit the amount of methane that leaks from oil and gas production facilities, reversing former President Trump Administration’s rollback.

Many offshore producers have implemented strategic frameworks to enhance the assessment and monitoring of GHG emissions from their operated assets. The data from these initiatives are used to identify emission mitigation opportunities. These include energy efficiency; methane emission reduction; flare reduction; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; and renewable energy investments.

The US government and industry conferences are encouraging the development of new technologies and industry best practices to reduce emissions.

The US Department of Energy earlier this year announced a $35-million program that supports technology projects that can be replicated easily and commercialized quickly to reduce methane emissions in oil and gas. Similarly, EPA is planning a virtual public workshop in late August to hear perspectives on innovative technologies that could be used to detect methane emissions from the industry.

Operator case studies of remote inspection for integrity management and the reduction of GHG emissions will be presented at the Deepwater Operations/Topsides, Platforms & Hulls event in Galveston from October 5-7.  

Inside this issue, Bruce Beaubouef, Offshore managing editor, reviews some of the key robotics technologies that are being used in the field. His story begins on page 14.