For American oil and gas giant Chevron, drones are replacing a 300-year-old technology: binoculars. These days, drones are being used to conduct visual and thermal inspection of Chevron’s onshore flare stacks in Indonesia.
Previously, Chevron’s visual inspection of the flare stack relied on binoculars, a clunky method which made it impossible for oil and gas companies to examine assets at close range or to get a detailed picture of the condition of the flare stack.
Now, a multirotor drone equipped with high-resolution RGB and thermal cameras, is able to inspect multiple flare stacks in a way that is more effective, faster and safer than conventional visual inspection methods. And it’s not just looking, but documenting — something binoculars couldn’t do. With a drone, high-quality photos can enable inspectors to accurately assess the condition of the Flare Stack. Add on a radiometric thermal camera mounted on the drone, and Chevron inspectors can study performance and function and identify temperature anomalies on the flare stack to build comprehensive, direct contactless flare stack inspection reports.
It’s all happening in the Duri area, one of the largest Chevron production fields in the Rokan PSC, Sumatra, Indonesia.
The news backs up trends we’ve already been seeing — which is that drone use among energy companies is rapidly rising. Drone use among businesses in the renewable energy (e.g. solar companies, utilities and oil & gas industry) increased 74% and users increased 13% in 2020’s Q2 vs. Q1, based on internal customer data from DroneDeploy, and the energy sector has been considered the largest industry within the commercial drone market.
We’ve seen other oil companies beyond Chevron get into drones. In one example, Shell Oil Company partnered with DJI to deploy new types of DJI drone tech in an effort to “improve efficiency and worker safety during industrial inspections and emergency incident response.”
The inspections in Indonesia are being done not by Chevron itself, but contracted out to another drone company, Terra Drone Indonesia. Terra Drone Corporation has been a dominant force in conducting similar inspections across the oil and gas industry. Specific applications include vertical structure inspection, storage tank inspection, pipeline surveillance, asset and facility inventory survey, and gas leak detection.
Terra Drone Indonesia is a subset of the larger Terra Drone Corporation, which was founded in 2016 and is based in Japan. Earlier this year, Terra Drone Corporation announced that it had raised $14.4 million in a series A round led by another oil and gas company, INPEX, which is Japan’s largest oil and gas exploration and production company. In fact, research group Drone Industry Insights named Terra Drone the second-largest drone service provider in 2019 (behind drone delivery company Zipline), before being named the largest drone service provider in 2020.
That’s largely due to Terra’s in-house products including the Terra Inspectioneering’s UT drone, which has a patented ability to conduct Ultrasonic Thickness measurements for things like storage tanks, chimneys, boilers, and vessels. There’s also Terra 3D Inspect, a full cloud-based platform for industrial inspection data. And, the company’s Terra Drone’s C-Astral is a drone designed for long, endurance flights using fixed-wing drones.