Gas transmission pipelines can run through almost any type of terrain. While some terrain is fairly easy to navigate, the process for inspecting pipelines in difficult to access areas is time-consuming, costly and can pose a safety threat to utility workers.
ULC’s Aerial Services team recently visited a Pennsylvania gas utility to conduct a series of unmanned aerial inspection flights to visually inspect gas pipelines located in hard-to-access areas and demonstrate the capabilities of the company’s H1000 Hexacopter UAV.
The customer identified four gas pipeline right-of-ways (ROWs) that needed to be inspected with two primary concerns. First, the pipelines which are located on the side of a mountain range and one at a river crossing needed to be visually assessed for vegetation management and encroachment. Secondly, the utility was concerned with the safety aspect of inspections for utility personnel.
Standard utility procedure requires personnel to inspect the pipelines at least one time, but up to as many as four times annually. These pipelines can be located along roadways, under bridges, and through forested areas where vegetation clearance is minimal. Patrolmen assess the ROWs via ground transportation and on foot looking for damage/probability of damage to pipelines, construction, encroachment, vegetation overgrowth or unauthorized activity which may impact the operation of the pipeline and pose a risk to the utility’s customers and workers.
For the demonstration, ULC’s Aerial Services team developed a fully autonomous flight plan and reviewed the flight plans and safety procedures with the customer. As part of ULC’s standard operating procedure, these steps allowed ULC to optimize the H1000 UAV’s take/off landing area, camera settings, flight altitude and flight pattern.
Three sections of the ROWs flown ran north, east and west of the utility facility in varying lengths up to 1/4 mile and all were fairly remote from residences and businesses, eliminating the need for customer notifications. Each flight took less than fifteen minutes to complete and within minutes of landing the UAV, photogrammetric data was downloaded to the pilot’s laptop and available for viewing by the customer.
Attendees noted they were able to easily observe the vegetation overgrowth and pipeline markers from the preliminary data. Several areas of vegetation overgrowth were identified, which the utility company noted for immediate trimming and cutback.
The fourth UAV flight was conducted at a river crossing off-site from the utility facility. ULC Aerial Services began flying the challenging terrain within minutes of arriving on site and was able to efficiently and accurately identify pipeline headers/valves located on the north side of the river. On south side of the river excessive overgrowth was identified at a regulator station which was scheduled for inspection by the utility in the coming weeks.
There was a strong consensus between the customer and ULC’s Aerial Services team that the data gathered utilizing the UAV addressed the two customer concerns and provided in-depth analysis that will allow the customer to increase their reliability and efficiency while reducing costs and increasing safety for utility personnel.