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News Extra: GE develops drone that can detect gas leaks

01 December 2016

At the opening of GE's new $125 oil and gas R&D centre in Oklahoma, the US conglomerate presented a new methane-sniffing helicopter drone called Raven. Many oil & gas sector companies already use UAVs for visual inspections, but GE thinks there will also be a big market for companies seeking reduced-cost solutions to detect gas leaks from their oil and gas fields, and from their pipelines and installations.

Stock image
Stock image

The US Environmental Protection Agency requires oil producers to monitor their fields for methane leaks and current practice is to send workers with infrared cameras to walk around their wells. According to GE, the drone can reduce the time taken on gas inspections by a factor of three.

Raven has a payload of laser-based sensors and can fly for 40 minutes on a single charge, relaying information to an iPad on the ground. It can also detect the severity of a leak, whereas infrared camera can only detect the presence or lack of gas in a particular place. The drone also has custom software that allows it to plan its own flight and analyse the data it gathers.

"When you think of Project Raven and the usage of new tools and applications, it’s going to be key to take the industry forward," Lorenzo Simoneli, chief executive officer at GE Oil & Gas, told Bloomberg. "There’s a lot that you can do going forward to help drive productivity."

GE’s oilfield drone project began last year after some of its other industrial divisions explored how they could use unmanned aircraft. Other applications could include inspecting flare stacks at refineries or checking gear for mechanical wear and corrosion.

GE will face competition from the methane-sniffing drone that NASA created, which was based on the sensor the Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed for use on Mars.

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