Monitoring of Oil and Gas Pipelines by Use of VTOL-Type Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
The vast and diverse spread of the oil and gas pipeline infrastructure makes real-time monitoring of the entire network a very costly task. This topology has provided vandals and crude-oil thieves with the opportunity of tapping the pipelines and successfully stealing crude oil from them unhindered. Nigeria lost more than USD 11 billion to crude-oil theft and pipeline vandalization over a 4-year period (2007 to 2011). The increase in vandalization has led to the divestment of assets by some of these oil companies because it is no longer economical to continue operating the assets. Strategies used by the government and oil companies to tackle these challenges include the deployment of military personnel to these assets and also along their pipeline right of way (ROW). In spite of these attempts, the results show that the deployment of these personnel and the attendant cost have not reduced the quantity and frequency of oil theft because the deployment time to some of these locations also contributes to delay in the response of the security personnel.
The deployment of dynamic pipeline-pressure profiles enables the determination of the onset of a leak or a loss of crude oil. This paper presents the deployment plan and communication architeture of the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) type of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for pipeline monitoring. The pipeline network of the company is divided into wide area cells, and each cell is controlled from a facility. Low-power UAVs with directional antennas and long-range zoom cameras are deployed to provide real-time visual monitoring of the pipeline section whenever a pressure drop or any significant third-party activity is detected on a section of the pipeline. Security personnel can then be deployed to the pipeline section if vandal activity is detected. This solution has the capability of reducing crude-oil theft by providing accurate location data in a timely manner to the company with respect to the bunkering activity along its pipeline ROW and also enabling the timely deployment of personnel to contain the situation.
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