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The pipeline inspection revolution: what will pipeline inspection look like in five years?

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Pipelines,

As a Founder and CEO of a company that is revolutionising the way infrastructure asset companies monitor and protect their assets, Didi Horn often gets asked future-looking questions. As we embark on a new year, he thought it would be a good time to answer some of these questions.

The pipeline inspection revolution: what will pipeline inspection look like in five years?

Before I share my thoughts about the future, it’s important to understand a bit about my past and how SkyX – a Toronto-based company on a mission to revolutionise the way aerial data is acquired, analysed and actioned – came to be.

From vision to reality

My vision to start SkyX was born during the decade I spent as a drone mission and special ops Commander for the Air Force. It was there that I realised the unlimited potential of the data that drones are capable of collecting and how that data can be used to change the world for the better. Five years ago, I set out on my entrepreneurial journey and started SkyX. Today, there are many potential applications for our infrastructure asset monitoring solution, but our immediate focus is the oil and gas industry.

In the coming paragraphs, I answer some of the top questions I have been asked by companies and partners over the last five years about pipeline safety, monitoring, automation and digitisation and how SkyX is leading a significant transformation in these areas.

The pipeline safety market is expected to reach US$11.62 billion in 2025 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.67%. What does this mean to you?

Didi: This significant growth tells me that the oil and gas industry is highly focused on addressing mounting concerns about pipeline security, leak detection, oil and gas leakage incidents. It also means that there is an increasing demand in the market for the solution we provide. We are one of the only companies that are equipped to help alleviate these concerns about pipeline leaks and security.

I also suspect that this projected growth has some connection to the ongoing pandemic. The pandemic has undeniably had a huge impact on the oil and gas industry. One of the silver linings is that it has forced companies to change and evolve and start looking for partnering companies that can help them work safer and more remotely than they have in the past.

We’re already seeing that the pandemic is motivating oil and gas companies to find ways to reduce the number of human resources in the field and the costs associated with traditional, manual pipeline monitoring practices and expect this to continue.

What one thing do you believe Oil and Gas companies will need most in the coming years?

Didi: Observability of assets. It’s not just something they’ll need in the future. It’s something they need now more than ever in order to meet the world’s environmental and safety demands.

By observability I mean that an asset operator or integrity manager always knows what’s going on in its asset, to see if leaks evolve or how vegetation is encroaching over time and to be able to predict what may happen in the future and be proactive in its prevention.

Now, more than ever, companies need to achieve this increased observability using fewer human resources. Pandemic-related travel restrictions and health risks are some of the reasons for this as the pandemic surges, but more important are the ongoing priorities to improve general safety and prevent human injury in the field and protect nature. Then, there are the financial reasons. Increased observability lets companies deploy resources based on urgency and importance rather than based on an arbitrary schedule.

To summarise, what they need most is a reliable, automated and cost-effective method to acquire and analyse aerial images of a pipeline on an ongoing basis, resulting in a higher level of observability and reduced reliance on manual inspections by humans.

The SkyX solution digitises and automates pipeline inspections, taking human inspection methods out of the loop. That’s basically our model. It 100% helps increase safety and efficiency while reducing costs.

How will access to aerial data address growing safety and environmental concerns?

Didi: Concerns around pipeline safety and environmental impact are growing across the world right now and will only continue on that trajectory. I believe that oil and gas companies know what needs to be done to increase safety and reduce the environmental impact of their pipeline operations.

Our role at SkyX is not to tell them what to do, rather it is to give them the data they need in order to take action proactively. More specifically, partner with them to highlight potential issues along a pipeline right of way (ROW) so that they can expedite their processes to reduce or eliminate these issues.

One analogy I often share to explain this is smartwatches. When you wear a smartwatch or fitness tracker on your wrist, you don’t expect Apple or Fitbit (or whatever brand you choose) to prevent your heart attack or expedite your diet plan or heal whatever ails you.

What you do expect is for them to give you the data you need in order to take the right actions to accomplish these goals. While the technology to track a heartbeat has been around for many many years, it is only now that we have access to that data on our wrists. Thanks to this technology, we know more about our bodies than we ever did in the past and can make more informed decisions based on health data. That’s essentially what SkyX does. We don’t tell oil and gas companies what to do to prevent incidents but we provide them with the data they need in order to take appropriate action.

What do you believe pipeline monitoring will look like five years from now?

Didi: I can tell you for certain that in less than five years pipeline monitoring will look nothing like it does today. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aerial data, digitisation, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will significantly reduce pipeline incidents, both naturally occurring and human incidents like theft.

Today, 90% of major pipeline incidents are discovered by the public. This needs to change. I already see more and more companies adopt automatic and ongoing monitoring processes. As a result, very few to no pipeline safety incidents will be discovered by the public in the future.

What’s the one thing pipeline integrity managers need to do to be successful in 2022 and beyond?

Didi: Move fast. Period. The technology with the power to digitise and transform pipeline integrity is here and ready to be deployed. Right now, we’re in the “early adopters” stage. I’ll use smartphones as an example. You can choose to continue to stick with your Blackberry. But in the blink of an eye, you’ll see everyone moving to iPhones or similar. Though here, it is not a fashionable or a trend thing, this is already disrupting the old methods and like the Blackberrys today – even if you really liked the old methods, those are no longer applicable nor relevant in today’s world.

The early adopter advantage gives you the opportunity to shape the solution to meet your specific requirements before it becomes a status quo. It also gives you the opportunity to help lead the change toward safer, more efficient and proactive pipeline monitoring practices, not just for your bottom line but for the future of our planet.

The future of the oil and gas industry is happening right now.

At SkyX, we’ve seen the future I describe in this article for many years. We’ve been working hard to prepare by developing the UAVs, operational excellence and data processing and analysis software to lead the revolution of pipeline inspection practices. And now we’re taking flight.

Signing three consecutive long-term huge contracts in a six month period when the average sales cycle is 9 - 12 months, shows we are on our way to be flying thousands of km across numerous missions on multiple continents simultaneously. SkyX is the only solution that gives oil and gas companies the end-to-end observability advantage of the assets that they need today and for years to come.

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Canada pipeline news Trends and analysis