Congress on July 13 paved the way for the oil and gasindustry to use unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones, to inspectproduction and pipeline systems.
In passing the Federal Aviation AdministrationReauthorization Act, the House and Senate approved a provision that allowsanyone to apply with the Federal Aviation Administration to operate drones forparticular purposes.
The bill, H.R. 636, singled out pipelines as one of the keykinds of infrastructure the provision is intended to cover, along with oil orgas production, refining, or processing. Under the provision, the drones couldbe used to inspect, repair, construct, maintain or protect systems, among otherthings. The House on July 11 approved amendments that the Senatemade to H.R. 636, but the House also made a few of its own changes. The Senateapproved these July 13.
The American Petroleum Institute welcomed the development. "Dronetechnology will complement the comprehensive safety practices that the industryhas in place to ensure that all Americans continue to enjoy the affordable,reliable fuels they depend on," Robin Rorick, the group's midstreamdirector, said in an emailed statement. "The ability to use drones willallow the industry to use the latest technologies to continue to effectivelymonitor infrastructure and facilities while minimizing the risk to personnel."
Some operators and industry observers have launched pilotprograms to evaluatehow useful drones might be. PG&ECorp. subsidiary PacificGas and Electric Co. in May announced a drone testing program forelectric and gas infrastructure inspections in inaccessible areas. Even in2013, pipeline operators, academics and drone manufacturers had begun examiningunmanned aircrafts' potential safety benefits for .
Outside the oil and gas industry, a couple of miningcompanies in 2015 got FAA exemptionsto begin using drones to assess facilities, too.