UAVs take to the skies in the oil and gas industry.
David Willems
VP Business Development
and Strategy.


The oil and gas industry is highly complex: asset management, environmental compliance and safety must all be addressed and guaranteed. For example, many organisations have invested heavily in deploying large oil pipeline infrastructure across an expansive geographic network, spanning countries and continents. This creates a need for activities such as oil and gas exploration, inspection and monitoring of pipelines. Pipelines must be routinely inspected to not only ensure its structural integrity for continuing safe operations, but also to monitor for intruders and other potential trespassers.

The same can be said for oil fields out at sea. Traditionally, inspections have been completed by deploying teams of personnel. However, these types of examinations often entail high risk situations and very lengthy journeys requiring each team member to spend a long time in the field.

In addition, they can be very expensive; for example, aerial inspection of pipelines using manned helicopters costs usually north of $3,000 for one hour (Kroetsch, 2013)[1].

The oil and gas industry is one of the top four sectors with the greatest potential for UAV integration, after construction, agriculture and insurance (Goldman Sachs, 2016)[2]. This is a result of three main benefits that UAVs offer over manned operations: reduced costs, improved safety and enhanced communication.



An introduction to the SKELDAR V-150

The SKELDAR V-150 is the perfect partner for the larger V-200 platform. It is an ITAR-free high-performance UAV that is unique in its class and includes an ability to carry multiple payloads across two payload bays (up to 30 kg in the main bay and up to 12 kg in the nose). The platform has a current endurance of up to 2.5 hours with a 12 kg payload, raising to 4 hours in the near future thanks to modifications already being worked on. The V-150’s modular design enables a high degree of maintainability alongside a minimum turn-around time during operations, and it has a small logistical footprint ideal for storing in small hangars.


For maritime operations such as shore to offshore oil field monitoring, cargo logistics including shore to oil rig and oil rig to oil rig, border patrol, sea surveillance, coastguard and naval operations, the SKELDAR V-150 can be equipped with a powerful Electro Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensor alongside a variety of small-form synthetic aperture radars (SAR) or other optical radar systems for delivering real-time intelligence in all weather conditions, day and night. Strip map, spotlight and wide area operating modes enable operators to engage in high-level maritime surveillance and moving target detection.


For land-based missions including pipeline inspection and monitoring, search and rescue, emergency response and firefighting missions, the V-150 can be installed with a combination of EO/IR and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) sensors to enable the provision of critical mission intelligence in the fields of emergency and security. The SIGINT payload locates targets and forwards their location into the integrated mission management system while the high-quality EO/IR systems provides the imagery. Additionally, the V-150 can be equipped with a range of wide area motion imagery sensors to provide a detailed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) picture of a large footprint in real-time supporting multiple agencies in their daily operations. 



UAVs, such as the SKELDAR V-150, enable oil and gas operatives to monitor any suspicious activities as well as check the status of the condition of hard-to-reach oil fields or cross border pipelines. Inspecting and maintaining oil pipelines and platforms is a perilous task: many are remote and in extremely harsh environments. Rig inspections carried out by rope-access technicians can take up to eight weeks and involve shutting down production (Airborne Drones, 2019)[3].


By capitalising on their endurance, using UAVs in these environments means it is possible to access these areas with relative ease but without exposing crew to the associated hazards. This removes risk to employee safety and consequently reduces medical expenses and lost work hours due to injury.

As well as the associated dangers, the remote location of oil and gas work also presents a challenge in gathering and sharing data. Having manned crews run inspections and repairs means a delay between data recording and analysis. In contrast, using UAVs means data can be shared via the cloud in real-time to crews in another location, totally separate from the inspection itself.

Not only do UAVs gather information more efficiently than humans, the digital data enables operatives to make better decisions based on more accurate data. Once a potential hazard has been identified, it can be addressed in a far shorter time than the manned alternative. This helps to identify issues earlier and reduce downtime which is vital for organisations in charge of safeguarding critical infrastructure.

Today, oil and gas organisations are beginning to deploy UAVs as they move towards non-conventional sources and more challenging environments. This is due to the requirement to ensure round the clock vigilance, a priority in any strategic asset protection plan.


Overall, the key benefits include:

  • Providing a quick overview and evaluation of difficult to reach areas;
  • Preventive maintenance planning and optimised production keeping costs on the low side;
  • Access to locations that pose health, safety and environmental risk to personnel;
  • Real-time data transmission;
  • Fast on-site deployment of UAV platforms such as the SKELDAR V-150;
  • Authorised and qualified UAV-inspection personnel;
  • Reduced downtime increases overall efficiency.


[1] https://www.abdn.ac.uk/geosciences/documents/UAV_Report_Redwing_Final_Appendix_Update.pdf

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/paidpost/goldman-sachs/drones-reporting-for-work.html

[3] https://www.airbornedrones.co/offshore-oilrig/