Case studies

Applications of robotics in the oil and gas industry    

Credit: Bert van Dijk/Getty images.

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BP trials Boston Dynamics’ Spot for gas leak detection 

Ensuring the safety of employees working in hazardous locations is essential for an oil and gas company. This is especially true in remote locations, like offshore rigs, where threat detection is critical to avoid accidents. A gas leak in an oil and gas operation could result in explosions causing loss of life and destruction of property.  

Relying on field personnel to locate and identify possible leakages is difficult, risky, and physically demanding. Also, deploying leakage sensors in every corner of a facility is not commercially viable.  

BP has been developing and deploying a range of sensors to improve efficiency, identify potential dangers, and resolve them. Boston Dynamics’ quadrupedal robot, Spot, has benefited BP in this regard. Spot can carry the sensors across the operational floor and access hard-to-reach locations. 

The sensors on the robot include gas leakage sensors and cameras that can ascertain any potential dangers in a live environment. It also allows specialists to spend their time on more complex activities. In 2020, the robot was tested at an industrial facility in Texas before being deployed at BP’s Whiting refinery near Chicago, Illinois, for further trials of its mobility and autonomous capabilities. In August 2021, the robot was also put on trial at BP’s Mad Dog facility in the Gulf of Mexico.  

After successful trials, the company plans to explore installing LIDAR sensors on the robot to help generate 3D models of a site during inspections. This would allow the device to gather larger data sets that could improve operational efficiency.  

In a blog post, Yasser Bangash, a senior facilities engineer, explained, “If you send a human out, they can look at two or three things at a time. A robot like Spot can have several different sensors or cameras on it, and process all that information at the same time.”  

As this technology will enable employees to examine facilities virtually and visualise simulated outcomes, it will help fulfil BP’s safety objective to remove employees from potentially hazardous situations and environments. 

Petronas uses ANYbotics robots for autonomous inspections 

Petronas is testing and using ANYbotics’s robots for autonomous inspection tasks at its onshore and offshore oil and gas facilities and at its petrochemical production and processing plants. So far, the four legged ANYmal robot has responded well to the challenging and variable terrain at Petronas’s facilities.  

Iskandar A. Mahmood, robotics manager at Petronas, said that offshore tests had validated ANYmal's performance under adverse conditions, including slippery terrain and strong winds. The device also dealt with long-term exposure to salty air, which is vital to minimise the maintenance cost of robotic equipment.  

The partnership also involves the co-development of a specialised robot certified for use in potentially explosive environments.  

The automation of routine inspection tasks also results in an opportunity to generate more data and operational insights. Fauzy Omar Basheer Othman, head of Petronas' Facilities of the Future, commented that it would use ANYmal to improve workflows with better data tagging and automatic reporting. This will also reduce workforce deployment and logistics costs by reducing health and safety risks. 

The partnership now focuses on commercialising ANYbotics’s robots in the oil and gas sector. The new agreement, signed in March 2022, signalled Petronas’ commitment to deploy ANYmal across its facilities and promote its use until 2025. 

ExxonMobil tests Nabors Industries drilling rig  

A drilling accident can cause serious delays to planned activities. The task entails drilling downhole, moving drill pipes, changing drill bits, and drilling again. This task has to be carried out precisely to avoid mistakes and accidents. Therefore, it involves constant supervision, servicing, and inspections to ensure safety and productivity. As well as this, the drilling operation needs to minimise methane emissions and water usage, especially in shale operations.  

ExxonMobil has several shale assets in the Permian Basin. Efficient drilling is critical to the financial viability of the operation. In October 2021, ExxonMobil tested Nabors Drilling’s PACE-R801 drilling rig for its well drilling in the Permian Basin.  

The rig configuration included Nabors’s smart suite of automated drilling software and robotics from Canrig Robotic Technologies. The fully automated rig can drill vertical and horizontal wells with long lateral sections. Using robotics and digital tools, the rig can improve the efficiency and safety of the onshore drilling process. It can also ease environmental concerns during drilling. The first successfully drilled well in this test resulted in a well at a total depth of about 20,000 feet.  

Automated drilling has healthy growth potential in the US shale oil and gas fields and other onshore and offshore fields. 

Equinor uses Kongsberg Maritime’s AUV to inspect subsea assets 

Many of Equinor’s sites are in offshore locations, with assets such as rigs, subsea wellheads, and pipelines. It is necessary to determine the ocean floor's topography before beginning the installation of equipment on the seabed and above-water facilities. Also, once the asset is operational, Equinor must conduct regular inspections and monitoring to ensure its smooth functioning. Deploying divers for such a laborious and, at times, dangerous task can prove counterproductive and time-consuming. 

Robots are an easy fit for such tasks. Equinor has deployed Kongsberg Maritime’s AUV, HUGIN. The AUV has a high degree of maneuverability. It has proved reliable in underwater surveys through the accuracy of its mapping of the seabed. Its variants can operate at water depths of 3,000 m, 4,500m, and 6,000m.  

It offers customisation of its sensors, such as high-resolution interferometric synthetic aperture sonar, multibeam echosounder, sidescan sonar, sub bottom profiler, still image camera, turbidity sensor, and methane sensor, in addition to gyroscope, accelerometer, and doppler logs.  

It can communicate with control rooms through acoustic and radio frequency (RF) links and operate in autonomous, semi-autonomous, or supervised modes. This enables the vehicle to conduct pre-planned surveys or update the operator with its mission status and real-time payload data. 

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.  

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.