Drones equipped with space-age sensors are part of a wave of advanced technology zooming into operation at BP’s new major oil and gas processing projects as part of a programme to continuously measure methane emissions.
The high-tech kit is part of an industry-leading BP programme to continuously detect, measure and enable the reduction of methane emissions at new and existing BP-operated Upstream assets. This crackdown on emissions has been made possible by a raft of new and complementary technologies, such as:
A BPX technician reads sensor information on her smart glasses out in the field that is relayed to an expert in the control centre
Drones are used to inspect a BPX Energy site in East Texas, US
“This programme represents an industry first and reflects our commitment to be a leader in advancing the energy transition by maximizing the benefits of natural gas,” says Gordon Birrell, BP’s chief operating officer for production, transformation and carbon.
BP believes that natural gas can play an important role in tomorrow’s lower carbon energy system. It is abundant, affordable and has half the emissions of coal when burnt for power.
But natural gas is mainly methane. And, if methane escapes into the atmosphere unburnt, it can be a potent greenhouse gas.
Gordon Birrell, BP’s chief operating officer for production, transformation and carbon
The continuous measurement of methane emissions marks a step change in the industry’s approach to tackling emissions of the potent greenhouse gas.
Infrared camera detects methane emissions
Historically, engineering calculations and emission factors have played an important part in quantifying emissions. The proven technology to systematically move beyond that approach hasn’t existed ̶ until now.
BP’s vice president of digital innovation, Morag Wilson, lead the hunt for new technologies. She says: “Many of today’s technological breakthroughs were only aspirations until recently. Three years ago, we sat in a room and brainstormed what we would need to achieve continuous measurement, because, at the time, the technology portfolio needed was not yet fully developed.”
GCI, when combined with other techniques, such as drones and what the industry refers to as ‘methane-sniffing’ technology, is now creating a ‘step-change’ in how BP can operate its new major projects, explains Watson. “As a result, inspections that used to take days will now be able to take 30 minutes,” she says.
BP has already set itself a methane intensity target of 0.2% from its Upstream operations and has held a series of methane roundtables around the world, bringing together experts from academia, NGOs and policy-makers to improve understanding across the industry. On the back of those events, BP set out possible actions and priorities, which have formed the basis of recent progress.
BP set a new UK record for the longest commercial drone flight while testing one methane-detecting technology.
A device fitted with highly-advanced sensors, originally designed by NASA for the Mars Curiosity Rover, circled BP’s Clair platform in the UK North Sea for 90 minutes, covering more than 185 kilometres – smashing the previous record of 100 kilometres.
Throughout the operation, the drone live-streamed the valuable data collected by the methane sensor. The technology is owned by a company called SeekOps, a commercial spin-off from NASA, and effectively ‘sniffs’ the air for methane and records the quantities.
That data can then be used to create a two-dimensional map of methane emissions. This was combined with UK drone supplier FlyLogix’s aviation skills to conduct the groundbreaking offshore trial.
BP intends to deploy the technology across all North Sea assets in 2020, marking the latest step in its global emissions-reduction programme.
The Clair platform in the North Sea, where the drone flight took place
The FlyLogix drone that circled the Clair for a record-breaking 90 minutes
Cutting methane emissions is a priority for BP. Here’s its three-step approach: