Shell has expanded its drones programme with Baker Hughes company Avitas as the Anglo-Dutch supermajor looks to test technology that could help detect and measure emissions.

Shell has been working with Avitas since 2018 to test drone technology and software platforms in a small number of installations and sites in the prolific US shale basin of the Permian.

Now the companies are expanding their partnership to use the technology to enhance Shell’s existing methane leak detection and repair (LDAR) programme in the basin.

Laser-based detection

“We will now deploy drones equipped with an optical gas imaging (OGI) camera and a laser-based detection system across our entire operating area in the Permian and conduct drone-based inspections across more than 500 sites, including approximately 150 sites, which fall under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act reporting,” Shell said.

Based on the data collected during the initial two-year pilot programme, Shell believes drone-based cameras and sensors have the potential to enable more efficient detection and reporting of leaks in the Permian.

Moreover, in the future, drones deployed in higher altitudes could enable detection over a larger area and an increased number of sites, providing further efficiency gains.

Only scratched the surface

“We’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible with drones and the potential benefits of flying them over our installations and sites in the Permian basin,” Shell’s vice president for health and safety for unconventionals Kevin McMahon said.

“While we are currently focused on conducting methane detection missions, multi-mission surveillance drones, when combined with advanced analytics, could enable automated detection of oil and gas leaks, corrosion, abnormal heat signatures, presence of wildlife, road conditions and more.

“Drones could also provide better insight into the overall condition of assets, enabling our maintenance teams to identify issues sooner and fix them faster.

“But more work is needed to harness the full spectrum of capabilities and to operationalise these capabilities,” McMahon added.