Inspecting the flaring stack at the Ormen Lange gas processing plant in Norway used to be a hazardous and lengthy job. Engineers had to check for faults by abseiling down the 70 metre-tall tower, forcing the plant to shut down for almost two weeks.
Today, we use remotely operated aerial vehicles (ROAVs) – often called “drones” – to examine some of Europe’s biggest energy plants. The operation takes just a few hours, the plant keeps running and the engineers are kept safe.
Shell is increasingly using ROAVs to inspect the condition of its oil and gas facilities in hard to reach places, like a tall tower or the underbelly of an offshore oil rig, because it’s safer and more efficient than sending people.
These multi-rotor or winged aircraft are equipped with a growing array of cameras and sensors. They can quickly and thoroughly examine parts of facilities that engineers would need to erect scaffolding, or abseil down, to see. GPS and gyroscopes can help keep them steady in windy locations, and allow operators to pre-program multiple shooting positions in the air.