What Can Imagery Do for Oil and Gas Infrastructure?

October 11, 2016


This June, President Obama signed into law the PIPES Act of 2016, also referred to as the SAFE PIPES Act. The legislation, according to DownstreamToday.com, “gives the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) new regulatory authority over operators of the United States’ nearly 3 million miles of petroleum pipelines.”

The PIPES Act requires the PHMSA to set minimum safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities and review and update current pipeline safety standards for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Additionally, certain underwater oil pipelines now have greater inspection requirements. On October 3, the PHMSA issued an interim final rule allowing the agency to declare emergency orders on oil and natural gas pipelines, especially in cases where public health and safety are a concern, according to a report from Natural Gas Intelligence.

Much of the Act centers on pipeline safety and reauthorizes the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act. The original legislation outlined 42 different mandates the PHMSA must meet; since that time, however, only 29 of those 42 directives have been implemented.

The PIPES Act also demands greater accountability from the PHMSA and pipeline companies, with updates on any of the 13 outstanding statutory mandates every 90 days. In order to complete some of these directives, pipeline companies must now produce detailed pipeline maps and models. As a result, the need for accurate, high-resolution imagery and GIS data is clear in oil and gas infrastructure.

Which types of imagery and data can benefit pipeline companies? Here are a few common methods used to capture aerial imagery and data analytics for the oil and gas industry:

Cheniere Enegy

An oblique view of Cheniere Energy in Texas (© Pictometry)

Orthogonal and Oblique Images

To get a view of all possible angles of an area, aerial imagery is crucial to see what’s happening on the ground. There are two possible angles when it comes to aerial imagery. Orthogonal images are a top-down view of an area and are ideal in the planning and designing process. Oblique imagery, which is captured at a 45-degree angle, allows for a more natural perspective and makes object recognition easier. Using both types of imagery together in an aerial map not only provides a view of every angle of an area but also gives accurate measurement information for land and objects on the ground.

Wide Area Image Capture

Wide area image capture allows for a comprehensive aerial view of an area. Because this imagery is captured at a low altitude, it exposes details that satellite imagery can’t capture. The more data that is available, the easier it is for oil, gas, and utility companies to plan new sites and maintain existing ones. Being able to see and measure a pipeline location remotely can also cut down on time spent surveying or inspecting onsite.

Corridor Image Capture

Corridor image capture allows utility companies to see the information they need: the exact locations of all pipelines. As well as being a cost-effective solution, corridor image capture offers photographic proof of encroachments along the pipeline and shows where repairs or site inspections may be necessary.

Critical Access Imagery

Taking precautions around oil and gas pipelines contributes to better safety for workers and communities alike. In the event of an emergency, however, having early access to imagery afterwards can help mitigate damage. In the future, that information can aid in a detailed analysis of what went wrong and point to solutions to prevent disaster.

Detecting change with corridor image capture

ChangeFinder imagery (© Pictometry)

Change Detection

With each year that passes, more data becomes available about an area. Having side-by-side imagery and analytical tools to compare new developments and construction is a vital part of any utilities maintenance plan. Change detection software lets users see year-over-year change or get a comprehensive historical view of a pipeline’s development. In high-consequence areas, this data can help oil and gas professionals spot potential problems before disaster strikes.

In addition to corridor image capture and other methods, many companies also use LiDAR technology to obtain detailed information about terrain and potential obstacles for pipelines. As the demand increases for better monitoring and planning of pipelines, technology meets these needs with high-resolution imagery and comprehensive geospatial data.

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