Next Role for Drones Could be Ship-to-rig Transfers

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By David Foxwell

Every week seems to bring news of another new potential application of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. The last couple of weeks were no exception.

Until now, most of the attention is focus on the use of drones in the offshore industry has been on using them as ‘eyes in the sky’ to inspect offshore platforms. There have been numerous examples recently of drones being flown from offshore platforms for inspection work, but their use will surely extend much further than being flown from fixed platforms – in fact, they are already being flown from offshore vessels.

Survey undertaken

I learnt recently that Fletcher Group in the UK had undertaken an interesting assignment from one of its platform supply vessels, Standard Supplier, which was contracted by oil and gas operator Spirit Energy to provide visual and thermographic surveys of Spirit’s ST-1 platform using a UAV.

ST-1 is located in block 49/5a in the North Sea, approximately 260 miles southeast of Aberdeen. The platform is due to be decommissioned and have its associated wells plugged. Before this work can commence, Spirit Energy needed to confirm there were no gas leaks and it would be safe to plug the associated wells. It decided to confirm this by visual inspection – meaning the inspection either needed to be carried out using a handheld camera or by a drone.

Standard Supplier was engaged to transport the UAV along with two Inspect Hire technicians and a Spirit Energy engineer to the ST-1 and provide a stable platform from which the work would be carried out.

A Skyeye UAV was used for the project, flown from Standard Supplier, dynamic positioning class 2 vessels that were able to work safely within the 500 m zone.

Drone Technology

Companies like Amazon are looking at using drones to deliver goods, but it still came as a surprise to learn that four Norwegian companies are working on using larger, more powerful drones to deliver cargo between vessels and offshore platforms.

As I highlighted here, the companies involved include offshore vessel owner Olympic Subsea. In addition to Olympic Subsea, the partners in the ‘Safer Logistics from Unmanned Logistics Helicopter’ research project include Griff Aviation, Norut (the Northern Research Institute), and STABLE, which specialises in motion-compensation technology.

Capable of carrying heavy cargo

Griff Aviation, which develops and manufactures drones that have the capacity to carry heavy cargo, has been awarded a US$2M grant by the Research Council of Norway to help it with its work. Norut is leading the project and has experience in developing autonomous control systems for unmanned air vehicles and operating them in challenging weather conditions in northern waters. STABLE’s role is to develop a control system so that drones can operate from a moving platform. The company is developing a stable platform for the drone to take-off and land from. The platform would be placed in a container on a ship’s deck, which would also act as a hangar for the drone.

We’re not talking about drones powerful and large enough to transport a container load of equipment, but the units that Griff Aviation and its partners are looking at would certainly be capable of flying the broken down contents of a container from the deck of a ship to a platform.

Doing so could certainly be quicker than conventional transfers for time-urgent items of equipment and would not require the use of a crane on a platform to lift a load from the deck of a ship, which would use less energy, and enable a supply ship to stand off a safe distance from a platform.

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Source: OSJ Online

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