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BP North Sea completes UK’s longest commercial drone flight for methane monitoring

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BP’s North Sea business has completed a pilot project to test innovative ways to remotely monitor methane emissions on its offshore assets.

The project combined advanced sensor technology that was originally designed by NASA for the Mars Curiosity Rover with a fixed-wing remote piloted air system (RPAS), breaking the UK record for the longest commercial drone flight.

Through this pilot, BP has demonstrated the feasibility of this unique approach using a drone to monitor methane emissions in remote locations.

The pre-programmed, autonomous drone circled the Clair offshore platform at a radius of 550m for 90 minutes, travelling over 185km, beating the previous record of 100km. During the flight, the RPAS live-streamed data collected by the methane sensor.

"Improving our knowledge, understanding and performance by testing new technologies and working closely with suppliers is central to the North Sea's carbon reduction plan, which aims to limit greenhouse emissions in our North Sea business,” said Ariel Flores, North Sea regional president at BP. “This pilot project represents a significant step forward in our ability to do that."

Following the successful pilot, the drone will now be deployed to all of BP’s North Sea assets next year, including ETAP and Glen Lyon.

"We wanted to test a method for collecting large amounts of data on our emissions over long periods of time, without having to send people or equipment offshore,” explained Joe Godwin, project manager and Clair field environmental lead. “The solution would also have to deal with the turbulent atmospheric conditions that we typically experience offshore in the North Sea.

"Ultimately, we identified the RPAS drone solution provided by UK supplier FlyLogix combined with the ultra precise sensor technology by SeekOps, as a good fit with our requirements. We set up a test project to monitor methane emissions from our Clair Phase 1 platform, West of Shetland.

“The drone itself was tracked and remotely controlled by a team of three qualified pilots using satellite communications and radio link from the remote Island of Papa Stour – the team never had to leave their base onshore."

Luca Corradi, innovation network director at the UK’s Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC), added: "Eliminating methane emissions is a key focus area in order to decarbonise offshore oil and gas operations. As the OGTC launches its new Net Zero Solution Centre, this is an example of the game-changing technology we need to see more of in order to precisely detect and quantify methane emissions, then contain and eliminate them."

Leak detection across the Atlantic

The trial in the UK’s North Sea follows the launch of a major leak detection drone programme in BP’s operations in the US. BPX Energy is currently using drone-mounted leak detection technologies, which allow up to 1,500 well sites to be surveyed each month across its operating basins.

"We are encouraged by the efficiency gains achieved since drone inspections were fully deployed,” said BPX Energy CEO Dave Lawler. “Today, we are able to run Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programmes in all of our assets at around $40 per well and we believe costs will continue to fall.

"BP is committed to taking a leading role in addressing the methane challenge and we are seeing that digital technologies can expand the scale of our methane emissions reduction programmes."