We get a lot of questions from our natural gas storage and pipeline customers. Overwhelmingly in the recent months those questions are related to figuring out how to prevent methane leaks or how to identify methane leaks.
This is part of a much larger trend. As time has gone on, we’ve found that more and more oil and gas asset operators are looking to take control of, or get out ahead of, their ESG (environmental, social, and governance) responsibilities through better data and more timely responses. It’s a good thing for the industry, it’s a good thing for the environment, it’s a good thing for energy investors, and we are excited to be a part of that movement. Rather than finding out about issues through landowner discovery or new construction and being on the back foot, these organizations are looking for issues and addressing them before they become major problems.
Low altitude methane leak detection data (via drone) is one tool in the tool-box that helps them do just that.
Can drones identify methane leaks?
Aerial leak detection services via drone or UAS (unmanned aerial system) can be the most effective and cost efficient way for natural gas pipeline and natural gas storage operators to scout for and address methane emissions.
At Arch Aerial we fly our own equipment (TDLAS methane laser payload) at low altitudes (25 – 140 feet above the ground), with our own employee pilots, who are all OQ (operator qualification) certified for leak detection via methane laser.
Our UAS Pilots fly low-altitude automated flight plans on dual pathways parallel to the pipeline, so that pipeline operators can identify methane emissions even if a plume changes due to wind.
Our pipeline operator customers get:
· A Google Earth Map with waypoints of each PPM reading every 15 feet.
· A punch-list of any areas exhibiting off-nominal (not-normal) PPM readings.
· An aerial photo of the area and turn by turn directions to the issue.
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ESG (environmental, social and governance) initiatives and how methane patrols can help.
ESG is here to stay, and when it comes to ESG initiatives methane detection services can help natural gas asset operators in a big way.
For energy executives, managing ESG goals through methane detection services can help in the obvious and immediate ways by preventing leaks, larger catastrophes, public image, and investor perception of an oil and gas asset and its operator. These efforts can help in less obvious ways as well, like with hiring efforts as the new crop of energy professionals make their way into the industry.
For DOT Coordinators and Pipeline Integrity Managers, methane leak detection services can reduce man hours for scouting, make addressing punch-lists much more efficient, and increase safety for the entire team. As far as satisfy regulatory requirements goes, the ‘Mega Rule’ as it is so called, and relevant agency regulation, has changed and changed again the requirements for natural gas storage and transmission operators, however it seems to be that methane detection, even if not required now, will likely be required in the near future. This is especially true as we look to 2021 and any policy/personnel changes that might take place in the DOT (Department of Transportation), PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
When do I need to do methane leak detection patrols? Where do I need to do methane leak detection patrols?
This questions is different for every operator, but here’s what we see from our customers:
ENTIRE SYSTEM REVIEW
Most of our customers start with an entire system review. This may have been a newly purchased asset with no data. It may have been a long-owned asset with no associated metadata or scant data at best. Either way, an entire system review can help asset operators start from a position of power with better information to better manage pipeline integrity. Our operators have flown pipelines, wellheads for cavern storage systems, and other assets. Add alt text Drone methane detection payload before flight.
HIGH CONSEQUENCE AREAS
Pipeline safety regulators like PHMSA and the EPA use the concept of ‘High Consequence Areas’ (HCA’s) to identify specific locales and areas where a release could have the most significant adverse consequences. HCAs for natural gas transmission pipelines focus solely on populated areas. See the USDOT’s Fact Sheet on High Consequence Areas for more information.
CLASS AREAS AND DETERMINING CLASS LOCATION
Typically, our pipeline customers use §192.5 to determine Class Locations, and fly Class 3 and Class 4 areas much more frequently. Our customers often go above and beyond to inspect road and river crossings (and their immediate vicinities) as well.
What is the best methane leak detection method?
The answer isn’t always the same (depending on the asset), but here are some of the options:
DRONE BASED METHANE DETECTION SERVICES
Drone based methane detection services provide highly detailed data in a cost effective manner. It acts as a highly detailed scouting tool for Pipeline Integrity Managers to use for creating and distributing punch-lists for their Pipeline Technicians to quickly and efficiently investigate issues on the ground. Drone based methane detection services are specific to the asset and aren’t pulled from bulk satellite or manned aircraft datasets not meant for one specific customer. Drone based methane detection services are usually cheaper than or at most (as told by our customers) comparable to manned-aircraft helicopter or plane based methane detection services.
WALKING WITH A HANDHELD DEVICE
Walking with a handheld leak detection device is the most granular way to inspect leaks, however it takes a lot of time and is the most costly way to inspect a pipeline system for methane detection even if only 10 miles long. Handheld inspection as the only method for detection puts your employees boots on the ground on the right-of-way for extended periods of time where asset and environmental hazards may exist. Using drone based methane detection data, executives and managers can reduce the amount of time and area covered by their employees on the ground: increasing safety, and increasing efficiency.
HIGH ALTITUDE HELICOPTER OR AIRPLANE (MANNED AIRCRAFT)
Manned aircraft based methane detection inspections are usually less detailed than drone methane detection data. Helicopter and plane based services are often much more expensive (if not the same cost), but are the most time efficient method for capturing large amounts of data. That being said, data from helicopters or planes usually produce heat maps or readings don’t specify if the issue is your pipeline or the pipeline occupying the same right of way. Arch Aerial drone flights are conducted between 25 and 140 feet above ground level on autopilot flight plans so that you get data from exactly where you want it.
BUYING PRE-CAPTURED DATASETS FROM SATELLITES OR OTHER SOURCES
This might seem like an easy way to get data immediately, but without data specific to your asset you probably won’t get insight for your specific asset. This type of data is more useful for trends in large shale plays and major problems, but it’s unlikely to get an executive or management team anything more than that in terms of utility or finding the real more common issues.
What does Arch Aerial LLC do?
Arch Aerial LLC is a drone service provider based in Houston, TX that has been in business since 2012. That may not seem like a long time in the energy patch, but it’s a really long time in the drone-service provider world.
We fly only with employee pilots and our own equipment for our oil and gas operators, so you know that our UAS Pilots are vetted, under strict DOT PHMSA Drug and Alcohol regulations, are OQ Certified, and familiar with our aircraft. We are an ISN Member Contractor, Avetta Member, and Veriforce Member. We focus on providing useful data for energy executives and management teams.
You don’t just get a huge data dump. We’ll give you actionable data so that your Pipeline Technicians can click a link and efficiently address any PPM readings above your desired threshold.
I’ve got more questions, what’s the best way to ask them?
I’m excited to be a part of this industry and would love to have that discussion with you. Call me (Ryan Baker) at 281-974-5752 or shoot me a message here on LinkedIn or via email. We love this tech and we’re eager to share it with our customers.