Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) has decided to use drones as another means to perform equipment inspections on its pipeline infrastructure. The utility company says it will use DJI Mavic 2 Pro drones for inspections of critical infrastructure, right-of-way assessments, and monitoring more than 5,500 miles of gas pipeline in Virginia.
Explaining the rationale behind embracing drone technology, VNG says it has found the traditional methods for pipeline inspection to be slower, labor-intensive, expensive, and sometimes even risky for worker safety. This is because even though natural gas pipelines run underground, they are accessed from above the surface for maintenance and inspection. Vegetation, for instance, will overgrow and obscure the path of workers trying to access the pipeline.
Meanwhile, drones such as the DJI Mavic 2 Pro can be used for navigating and patrolling a segment of a pipeline, while identifying and capturing images or videos of areas of interest at predefined timings and returns.
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VNG says it will be one of the first natural gas utilities in the state to use drones while simultaneously conducting a pilot program for sister concerns in Illinois, Georgia, and Tennessee that all fall under VNG’s parent company, Southern Company Gas.
Kenny LeSueur, an engineer and quality assurance specialist with VNG, has recently obtained his pilot certification from the FAA to get the drone program up in the air. He’s also responsible for identifying best practices and making the program adaptable for the rest of Southern Company Gas. LeSueur quips:
Drones will give us the flexibility to perform a variety of higher quality inspections due to their ability to fly closer to pipelines, and safety of operation. For example, when we inspect bridges, we will no longer have to be close to the water source, such as rivers or streams, so it will increase the safety for those in the field as well.
Another member of the pilot project team, Randall “Ness” Peacock, explains he’s previously held a private drone pilot license and that he’s excited to enhance his job knowledge while using his passion and expertise in flying to take worksite safety to a higher level. Here’s Ness:
Maintaining this sometimes unseen infrastructure is critical to fueling the lives of residential and business customers across southeast Virginia. The applications of having a drone and certified pilots for the energy company are endless.