British oil major BP was one of the early adopters of drones, conducting pilot studies in 2006 at its oilfields in Alaska


Oil and gas companies are employing drones to obtain real-time insights to enhance productivity and safety (Credit: Pxhere/Adonyi Gábor)

Several industries are using drones to improve their operations, with oil and gas one of the sectors testing the technology.

BP, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell are just three of the companies employing drones to obtain real-time insights to enhance their productivity.

According to data and analytics firm GlobalData’s report, Drones in Oil & Gas – Thematic Research, British oil major BP was one of the early adopters of drones, conducting pilot studies in 2006 at its oilfields in Alaska.

Previous analysis by GlobalData also shows the uptake of the technology in mining is “growing rapidly”, with 21% of sites surveyed saying they had fully invested in drones during 2019 — compared with just 9% during the previous year.

Below, NS Energy looks at how seven oil and gas companies are using drones in their operations.


Seven oil and gas firms using drones


BP was the first oil and gas company in the US to receive a license to operate commercial drones in 2013, after teaming up with California-based AeroVironment, a developer of unmanned aerial vehicles, to expand its drone usage within the country.

It now deploys drones, crawlers, and other robotic technologies to undertake risky tasks in its operational areas.



US multinational Chevron is leveraging the aerial data acquisition capabilities of drones for improving safety and productivity at oilfields.

It is applying augmented reality (AR) to drone feeds for evaluating field equipment and infrastructure during inspection and monitoring operations.

Chevron is also evaluating the application of drones in the event of industrial accidents, particularly for assisting in oil spills.



Texas-headquartered ConocoPhillips is employing drones for the inspection and monitoring of its assets worldwide including the US, the North Sea, and Australia.

The company is currently using drones to inspect the unmanned Judy field production platform in the North Sea

ConocoPhillips is also using drones to inspect oil tankers for defects on the exterior and in cargo storage, which has reduced the overall time required for such tasks by approximately 75%.

Drones in mining
ConocoPhillips is using drones to inspect oil tankers for defects (Credit: Pixabay/DJI-Agras)



Norwegian energy company Equinor is investing in a broad range of emerging technologies as it seeks to transform its operations using digitalisation.

It is involved in the development of robotics and drone technologies to leverage their manoeuvrability in plant facilities that may seem inaccessible to field technicians.

Equinor’s drone usage is anticipated to grow as it embarks on automating oilfield operations in the North Sea, with an aim to implement unmanned and possibly fully-autonomous production platforms.



The development of drone technologies has featured prominently on ExxonMobil’s agenda since 2012.

The US multinational is aiding the development of drones for their potential in enhancing operational safety while contributing to efficiency.

Exxon has deployed drones for aerial surveillance and inspection of operations in North America, the UK and Australia.

The company has mainly been targeting offshore platforms and refining and petrochemical complexes.



Russian oil giant Gazprom is carrying out extensive trials to assess the performance of drones in the surveillance and monitoring of its assets under extremely cold conditions.

The company is aiming to develop drones that could facilitate fast, safe and reliable data collection at lower costs.

Gazprom intends to use drone technology for the exploration of hydrocarbon prospects in Siberia.


Royal Dutch Shell

British-Dutch firm Shell has been using drones from Canadian company Aeryon Labs, a developer and manufacturer of unmanned aerial vehicles, to perform flare stack inspections at its facilities.

Shell is also conducting pilot studies at its technology centre in Houston and intends to assess the capabilities of drones in conducting asset inspections, through a combination of sensing devices and drone technologies.