Unmanned aerial vehicles coming to ND energy industry

By The Bakken Magazine Staff | September 20, 2015

The oil and gas industry is showing increased interest in using small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS) for tasks such as surveying and infrastructure inspection.

The ability to obtain an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration for the commercial use of sUAS is attracting the interest of industry and other businesses related to energy production in North Dakota, according to Todd Madeen, survey account manager for RDO Integrated Controls.

“As more exemptions go through, it’s getting more popular—it’s snowballing, it’s gaining speed,” said Mike Schmaltz, account manager for RDOIC, which has been a sUAS dealer for two years.

Madeen said RDOIC is talking with crude producers in the Bakken shale play about using sUAS in their operations and is receiving a great deal of interest.

RDOIC and SenseFly Ltd. were at the Bakken Conference and Expo in Grand Forks to show the oil and gas industry how small unmanned aerial systems can benefit the business.

Based in Bismarck, North Dakota, RDOIC currently sells the SenseFly fixed-wing eBee unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the company’s new eXom quadcopter.

Adam Zylka, SenseFly technical support engineer, attended the conference trade show with RDOIC to show the sUAS platforms and answer questions about the company’s products.

“With the eBee, SenseFly, currently has the second most exemptions in the U.S., just behind DJI,” Zylka said. “In terms of mapping and surveying exemptions, we’re leading in the U.S.”

He notes that the eBee and eXom are complimentary mapping platforms. The fixed-wing eBee is best used for horizontal mapping and covering large areas up to 250 to 300 acres per flight to create 3D terrain models, Zylka explained.

The eXom is better suited for conducting close inspections of vertical surfaces, such as the underside of a bridge or other infrastructure.

“It can be used to follow a pipeline with a thermal camera to see where potential leaks and hotspots are,” Zylka said. “It’s a higher resolution for close-in mapping.”

As part of its service, RDOIC provides training to its customers and works with SenseFly to help them obtain a commercial exemption from the FAA.