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BP deploys Mars technology on UK continental shelf as part of worldwide methane monitoring initiative

12 September 2019

BP's North Sea division has successfully executed a pilot project testing innovative ways of remotely monitoring methane emissions around its offshore assets. This includes the use of drones with advanced sensor technology originally designed by NASA for its Mars exploration programme.

Drone used for Clair platform methane monitoring: Image: BP
Drone used for Clair platform methane monitoring: Image: BP

One test involved a fixed-wing remote piloted air system (RPAS) circling the Clair platform at a radius of 550 metres for 90 minutes, travelling for a total of more than 185 km, significantly beating the previous UK drone endurance record of 100 km.

The pre-programmed drone, once airborne, managed itself autonomously. Throughout the flight, the drone live-streamed data collected by the methane sensor, similar to the one installed on NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover.

BP says the test demonstrates the feasibility of this approach to monitoring methane. The Clair field is 75km west of Shetland and the drone was tracked and remotely controlled by a team of three qualified pilots using satellite communications and radio link from the Shetland island of Papa Stour. The team never had to leave their base onshore.

Following the successful results, the specialist drone will be deployed to all of BP's North Sea assets in 2020, including ETAP and Glen Lyon.

Ariel Flores, North Sea regional president, said: "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. This pilot project represents a significant step forward in our ability to do that."

Project manager, Joe Godwin, Clair field environmental lead, said: "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. 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."

This UK continental shelf trial follows the roll-out of a major leak detection drone programme in BP's US operations. BPX Energy is now using drone-mounted leak detection technologies, which enable up to 1,500 well sites to be surveyed every month across all of its operating basins.

The flights generate data around the location and size of a leak and issue a work order to fix it. The technicians in the field are quickly dispatched and equipped with Fieldbit's multi-source Augmented Reality (AR) technology – or smart glasses – which enables them to virtually link to technical support in the office. Through the use of this technology, both are able to see the affected area and work together to fix it, improving safety, accuracy of repairs and productivity.

BP also announced that it will deploy continuous measurement of methane emissions in its future BP-operated oil and gas processing projects as part of its ambitious programme to detect, measure and reduce methane emissions. 

Continuous measurement, including instruments such as gas cloud imaging (GCI), will be rolled out to all new major projects worldwide. The technology has also been tested and installed in existing facilities such as BP’s giant natural gas Khazzan field in Oman.

It is a key part of the energy group’s wider and longer-term strategy to deploy a suite of complementary methane detecting techniques across new and existing facilities. BP says the data generated will help identify the largest opportunities to tackle methane emissions, drive efficiency and develop best practice – and is ultimately aimed at delivering and improving on BP’s methane intensity target of 0.2% from its Upstream operations.

BP is also a founding member of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which brings together 13 of the world's largest energy companies and has set up a $1 billion investment fund to address methane emissions and invest in complementary technology, including Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCUS).


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