Drones Measuring Emissions

December 06, 2023

In this episode, Jordan Driskell sits down with Ian Cooper, CEO of SeekOps, at the ADIPEC oil and gas show in Abu Dhabi. We explore the innovative role of drone technology in measuring emissions and its potential to enhance sustainability efforts across industries.


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Drones Measuring Emissions - Ep 26 - Transcript

00:00:00 Speaker 1
This episode of the Energy Pipeline is sponsored by Caterpillar Oil and Gas. Since the 1930s, Caterpillar has manufactured engines for drilling production, well service, and gas compression. With more than 2, 100 dealer locations worldwide, Caterpillar offers customers a dedicated support team to assist with their premier power solutions.

00:00:26 Speaker 2
The energy pipeline is your lifeline to all things oil and gas to drill down deep into the issues impacting our industry. From the frack site to the future of sustainability, hear more about industry issues, tools, and resources to streamline and modernize the future of oil and gas. Welcome to the Energy Pipeline.

00:00:49 Jordan Driskell
Welcome to the Energy Pipeline. This is Jordan Driscoll, your guest host filling in for Jordan Yates. It is not a requirement that host be named Jordan. That's just a benefit. That's something you get for free. All right, today's episode we're going to sit down with Ian Cooper, CEO of SeekOps at ADIPEC Oil and Gas Show here in Abu Dhabi. We'll explore the innovative role of drone technology, measuring emissions, and its potential to enhance sustainability efforts across the industries, and I just want to say, " I am very excited to hear what he has to say about drones because this is going to be absolutely fascinating." So without further ado, Ian, would you please start by telling us a bit about yourself and your role as CEO of SeekOps, and a bit of your story?

00:01:32 Ian Cooper
Sure. Thank you, Jordan. Thank you for the opportunity to talk today about SeekOps, and specifically drone technology. I came into this, I guess, relatively late in life, so I'd spent 30 years in oil and gas service industry with Schlumberger before joining SeekOps. One of the things that I had done as my role in Schlumberger was early stage technology development prior to managing the venture capital group in Schlumberger that I set up, founded and invested in early stage companies like SeekOps. Given that we're at ADIPEC, it's been fun to go back in time and go back to my drilling roots.

00:02:13 Jordan Driskell

00:02:14 Ian Cooper
So I ran drilling technology, R& D for completions, and then went to the dark side of the frack business. Wasn't a chemist, so I had to learn very quickly about the subtleties of chemistry, and some of the fantastic things that you can do with chemistry. Always felt of myself as a kind of rounded scientist. Prior to that, I did a PhD in meteorology, of all things, and so I've kind of come full circle on the environmental sciences.

00:02:41 Jordan Driskell
You really have and you've got all the wallpaper in the world. I mean, you've got more degrees than a thermometer.

00:02:47 Ian Cooper
Well, you should see my office. I'm very big in patenting and inventing things, so I was very lucky to do 26 patents, and continuing with SeekOps to try and invent new ways to use drone technology.

00:03:00 Jordan Driskell
That's fantastic, and also well done on the patents. That is not always an easy process.

00:03:06 Ian Cooper
A couple of them even make money for Schlumberger, I think.

00:03:09 Jordan Driskell
Oh, that little company, in case our listeners have heard of it.

00:03:12 Ian Cooper
SLB, I think now.

00:03:12 Jordan Driskell
Oh, yes, yes. We have to be correct on that one. That is fantastic, so drone tech and emissions. Now, I know we've got some drone technology being used for missions and it's fascinating. Can you give us an overview of how it's being used and why it's such a game- changer for sustainability?

00:03:31 Ian Cooper
Sure. I'm going to take a step back first-

00:03:33 Jordan Driskell

00:03:33 Ian Cooper
...and just talk about drones in general because I think there's a lot of misunderstandings about drones. You can go into a local Best Buy in the US, and you can buy a little drone, and a lot of people use drones for wedding photography these days, and I've got a daughter that's going to be married in March. It's a very lucrative business-

00:03:53 Jordan Driskell

00:03:54 Ian Cooper
...drones for wedding photography, but we're talking more about the larger enterprise- grade drones, so these are typically meter and a half, two meters. There's a couple of different types. There's the long- range, fixed- wing drones. They look a bit like model aircraft or small helicopters, and then what we use more frequently are the traditional kind of quad or multi rotor drones that I think most people are more familiar with. They all have slightly different purposes. The fixed wing tends to be for long- range, so we have used those offshore in the North Sea. Launch from land. Go to an offshore platform. Fly around it and measure the emissions. Come back completely manless. The smaller multi- rotor drones, obviously you can get a lot closer, a lot more fidelity with the measurements. Interestingly, when we first started going offshore, people wanted to use the fixed wings because I think there's some apprehensions about drones and their stability, and what if it crashes into my equipment? We'll come back a little bit about how they're intrinsic and very safe from that perspective, but we've seen a migration away, actually, from the fixed- wing drones as the operators have got more comfortable offshore to use in the multi rotors where they'll launch them off the platform themselves. In a post- covid world, it's a little harder to get on an offshore platform, unless you're revenue generating, so we typically launch off a supply boat or one of the safety boats nearby, and then we keep it in visual line of sight. There's kind of two ways to fly drones. There's the visual line of sight we call VLOS, and then beyond visual line of sight, which was what we did with the fixed wing in the North Sea, which was about a 600- kilometer round trip, so for a while we actually held the world record for the longest non- military drone flight.

00:05:46 Jordan Driskell
No kidding? Well, that's awesome, so I had no idea that there was ever a ton of apprehension about the safety of operating drones from that. You hear a lot of stories about apprehension around drones and a whole lot of other applications, let's say, but the operating of them, I guess I didn't realize there was ever that much fear around it.

00:06:09 Ian Cooper
I mean, offshore platforms, as you can imagine, are very densely packed. They're putting a lot of equipment into a very tight space, so a fixed- wing drone can carry potentially quite a lot of momentum when it's flying.

00:06:23 Jordan Driskell
Yep. That's true.

00:06:23 Ian Cooper
Should it fly off target, it could potentially cause quite an incident, so typically, they would fly them 500 meters around the platform, so well away from the platform. Obviously, that all had to be coordinated for simultaneous operations helicopters coming back and forth to the platform. With the multi- rotor, given we're a lot closer, we tend to operate those on visual line of sight. What we also use is automation capabilities of these drones, so typically, we map out the way points where we want to go first, and when we come to discussing the use of onshore, we'll go into a bit more detail on that, but we map out where the drone is going to go, and then it's all push button. It's hands off by the operator, and it flies the patterns that we need to map the methane emissions completely safely at a predetermined height, predetermined offsets.

00:07:16 Jordan Driskell
And you know the timing on everything, so you can avoid any supply helicopters or anything like that.

00:07:20 Ian Cooper
Exactly. It's all coordinated directly with the operator. There's typically a spotter on the platform, just in case. I mean, it's more a safety measure than anything else.

00:07:29 Jordan Driskell

00:07:29 Ian Cooper
We don't overfly any equipment or personnel because we are always flying downwind because we're looking for emissions coming to us. We are a direct measurement of methane, not a reflective or passive measurement, and so with that automation capability, it's a much lower risk for the operator. Furthermore, these modern drone systems have all sorts of eyes and ears built into them, electronic anti- collision. It's like a mini aircraft, essentially. It's pinging out it's location all the time. We've actually tried. We have a little R& D center in Austin where we prove up our technology. We've tried flying it into walls and it will fly very fast and stop. You cannot get these things to commit suicide.

00:08:23 Jordan Driskell
I mean, that's better than my car, which I think actively tries to back me into things.

00:08:28 Ian Cooper
Only if it's using Google Maps. Sorry.

00:08:31 Jordan Driskell
I mean, 10 years ago would've been Apple Maps, but yes. So as far as speaking of the sensors, we're getting to that. SeekOps drones, you're equipped with some of the most cutting- edge sensors around, so tell me about some of these sensors and some of the super precise emissions measurements you can do with them.

00:08:52 Ian Cooper
Yeah. Our sensor is drone agnostic, so we can fly on any enterprise- grade drone. That was a really strategic business decision because-

00:09:00 Jordan Driskell
That is.

00:09:01 Ian Cooper
...drones are such a rapidly advancing platform. I think at some point in the near future they will be commoditized, but we made that very conscious decision that we wanted everything to be in one simple unit, so power telemetry, GPS, the sensor itself a LIDAR for verticality, so wherever it is, it knows exactly where it is because what we're measuring is the concentration of methane, and we're measuring it directly, so we have a laser, and a detector, and two mirrors in the sensor that's put just ahead of the prop wash so that we get a pristine sample that's not affected by the propellers-

00:09:39 Jordan Driskell

00:09:41 Ian Cooper
...patented. That laser bounces back and forth between those mirrors, so it doesn't come out of the sensor at all and reflect. It's always self- contained, so it's what's called an open cavity tunable diode absorption spectrometer, a very long- winded way of saying we get a very long path length so we can tune to part- per- billion sensitivity of methane, which is really important when you are operating in oil and gas or biogas around farms or landfill. We'll come on to how these applications differ, but the methane tends to be elevated there, so when you're looking for leaks or enhancements above background, you need that part- per- billion sensitivity, so that's the sensor itself. Self- contained, battery life flies for about eight hours, much longer than a drone can stay in the air. Typical drone systems that we use have about 45 minutes to an hour flight time. When we set up a drone to fly on an oil and gas well pad, for example, that has tanks, and separators, and wellheads, individual equipment groups, and our role is to try and identify the leaks from each of those equipment groups with the sensor. We can't get to the detail of, " It's this valve at this point here," because we're flying quite fast. We want it to be relatively unobtrusive to the operator. As I said, we don't over fly any equipment or personnel. We always try and fly downwind or around the equipment. We take a wind measurement on the drone and we also have an offset anemometer that's recording the wind, so at every point we're recording. We're recording it at 10 times a second. As we fly this kind of interlaced mesh, kind of like the old tube televisions up and down, and back and forth to get a really dense mesh around the equipment, each point is a concentration of methane and the wind vector, and that's important because that allows our wonderful physicists back in the office when the data's been uploaded to the cloud to determine the location, and most importantly, the leak rate, the quantification, and everything is about quantification because that enables you then to prioritize your leaks and which ones you fix first.

00:11:58 Jordan Driskell
Oh, that's outstanding. Like I said, " I'm very excited about where this technology is going," and so that's brilliant. If I may ask, I don't even know if I'm allowed to know this information, but I'm going to throw it out there. You can tell me or not. How much does the sensor package weigh? If it's modular, it could be put on pretty much any industrial grade drone.

00:12:19 Ian Cooper
So it's about 600 grams, so it's super light.

00:12:23 Jordan Driskell

00:12:23 Ian Cooper
The mirrors, the heaviest part, typically the batteries that go into the unit.

00:12:27 Jordan Driskell

00:12:28 Ian Cooper
We use carbon fiber. I come from an oil field technology development background. When I came into SeekOps, the technology wasn't quite commercial. What I brought to the company was that rigor and product development, so I wanted to make sure this thing is really robust for the oil field because people in the oil field treat things really badly. They drag things through mud. They drop them. They throw the pelican cases on aircraft, and it's got to stand all that shock and vibration.

00:12:58 Jordan Driskell

00:12:58 Ian Cooper
Shake and bake, we call it.

00:13:00 Jordan Driskell

00:13:01 Ian Cooper
So just as we'd shake and bake a down- hole drilling tool, we do the same with our sensor as well to make sure it's fit for purpose for the oilfield, so we put it in an oven. We make sure it can fly in the heat of the Saudi desert, and then we freeze it down to- 20 to make sure we can fly either upstate New York for biodigesters or Canadian oil and gas operations. That reliability of the sensor is important, and furthermore, we went for ISO 9001 certification as well. For us, that was really important to demonstrate to our customers that we have a workflow and equipment that they can trust.

00:13:37 Jordan Driskell
Right, so you mean to tell me 600 grams, heat, cold, being tossed around by just any old anybody for any reason whatsoever, and it's got, you said, an eight- hour battery life?

00:13:52 Ian Cooper
And typically, works right out of the box. The first thing we do typically is safety case with the operator, walk them through the operations, show them how the sensor is going to work, where we're going to fly, and then first time we fly, we actually put an orthomosaic camera on a drone, a slightly smaller drone, a little more agile, and that does a visual map of the facility, so we don't rely on Google Earth. We have a high resolution map of all the equipment on location so that when we do those methane measurements and we're trying to locate where that leak is, we can put it in the context of those operations and the equipment at that time. Then we fly the methane drone. First time out, we fly to set the waypoints so that when we come back, if we found leaks and they repair them, when we come back, it's push button. So a typical well pad will take about an hour to fly that first time because we're setting up the waypoints, kind of just seeing where the equipment is, working closely with the operator, making sure he's-

00:14:53 Jordan Driskell
Getting the wind patterns and-

00:14:54 Ian Cooper
Exactly. Making sure he's got no- fly zone, so no drone is intrinsically safe, so he can't go right near the wellhead because of explosion risk, so we map out those regions. When we go back once they've found a leak and fixed it, takes about seven minutes because we put the drone down. It knows where it's flying. We push the button. It's a one- person operation, and it just maps out.

00:15:16 Jordan Driskell
You've got the safety guy there in case something should happen-

00:15:19 Ian Cooper

00:15:20 Jordan Driskell
But otherwise, it's seven minutes of this thing running around, checking the admissions back to wherever it's docked or based-

00:15:26 Ian Cooper

00:15:26 Jordan Driskell
... and that's that.

00:15:27 Ian Cooper
So we can do 20 well pads a day like that. You start to get a really good indication of, " What's my worst performing asset? What's my best performing asset?"

00:15:36 Jordan Driskell

00:15:36 Ian Cooper
And then you scale that to what we've done onshore/ offshore with customers. We've done quite a bit of short work with Shell and BP, and obviously, they work in multiple countries. They want to know which is my worst, which is my best performing asset because that's what I'm going to address first. As we've heard here this week at ADIPEC, it's all about minimize emissions as quickly as possible. With quantification data that tells you what that asset leak rate is for each of their equipment. They can sum that up and say, " In offshore Nigeria, that's where I'm going to put my attention first." So that's actionable information that's come from this little sensor that's no bigger than this.

00:16:13 Jordan Driskell
That is fantastic. So out of the box, I mean perfect circumstances, nothing crazy happens, best- case scenario, out of the box, you've got a drone sitting here, you've got your box with a sensor from SeekOps. How long does it take you to get that drone in the air making its first flight?

00:16:31 Ian Cooper
About 15 minutes. I mean, typically-

00:16:33 Jordan Driskell
I can't set my phone up in 15 minutes.

00:16:37 Ian Cooper
We've typically been working with the operator ahead of time. We've done what we call... We used to call it in the drilling world, drill the well on paper. We fly the operation on paper beforehand so we see exactly where we're going to fly. We tell the operator, " It's here." When we get on location, if the wind is not quite where we're expecting, and typically we know the prevailing winds, but as you can imagine with all of that equipment around the wind is swirling.

00:17:02 Jordan Driskell

00:17:03 Ian Cooper
It takes me all the way back to my meteorological background because you've got these complex flows, so you're trying to find where a leak is coming from with all these flows. The real benefit a drone gives you is that three- dimensionality. I think we'll come on to the kind of the other sense of formats, but a drone gives you that ability to essentially encompass the whole plume from a specific leak. That three- dimensionality is really important because of that complexity of the boundary layer flows. If you were just in one location, and you can imagine you had a fixed sensor here, and the wind was blowing that way, the sensor wouldn't see the leak.

00:17:40 Jordan Driskell
100%, yeah. It would've been 30 years ago, this would've been fantasy. It would've been nonsense if somebody had tried to suggest this.

00:17:50 Ian Cooper
Exactly. The cost, the sophistication of the drones have really enabled this. What's interesting for us, whilst we have our own pilots, our method of scaling, and so we are commercially operational on all six major continents now, which for a startup is quite a headache logistically, but it's what we needed to do because our operators are global operators, so we really needed to partner with drone service providers. This has led to a little industry of drone companies that do nothing, but fly sensors, fly packages, so we bring them to Austin. We train them for a couple of days in the use of the sensor. These are typically experienced pilots already that have had just like commercial pilots. They've got hundreds of hours except it's flying a drone, more like a video game, and so we bring them to Austin, train them up in the optimized flight patterns for our sensor, and then we ship them to the sensor, whether it's in Argentina or Ecuador, and so we have about 15 drone companies around the world that we've trained up, and they use that sensor. They upload our data to the cloud, and then we process data in Austin.

00:18:59 Jordan Driskell
For a startup, that is astonishing efficiency. I'm very impressed with your company.

00:19:06 Ian Cooper
So last year we actually won Startup of the Year Award here at ADIPEC last year. It was a very big deal for us.

00:19:11 Jordan Driskell
Oh, see, I'm late to the game. Somebody else has already recognized that, clearly, so well learned, it sounds like.

00:19:17 Ian Cooper
No. It was a big deal for us. ADIPEC came out with a big film crew, and kind of shot some really good footage that we use in marketing information now, but I think it was driven by the fact that we'd globalized the solution, and methane emissions is a global problem. It needs a global solution.

00:19:35 Jordan Driskell
Sure does. That's wonderful. So speaking of emissions, and I think we already kind of touched on this, but if you want to go a little bit deeper... Well, actually, I'm just going to flag this and cut this part out because you already well hit this question, so we're good there. Now, do you guys do any kind of in- house drones yourselves as far as, or is it just the sensor base itself and modularity with all the gain?

00:20:08 Ian Cooper
Yeah. Our secret source is in the processing of the data. The sensor, we've built some intellectual property around that, particularly how we use it robustly in the oil field. I think one thing to highlight is that we have one part of the whole evolution of methane emissions. I think if you walk around ADIPEC, you'll see there are satellite providers. There are continuous monitors. Methane emissions is a very complex problem. I think there's been a lot of misinformation out there. I call them the three Ms, myths, misinformation, misunderstanding that have been propagated primarily by the technology providers themselves, wanting to be a single solution to everybody for everything. Given the spatial and temporal scale of emissions, we focus on both our capabilities and our limitations. Our biggest limitation is we're a snapshot in time, so satellites are great for large aerial coverage, particularly with a constellation of satellites. I work with GHGSat out of Canada, a great company. I used to sit in the board of the company, which is ultimately how I got into methane emissions. A longer story, probably worth over a beer.

00:21:27 Jordan Driskell

00:21:28 Ian Cooper
And they have a constellation of satellites that essentially can cover the globe, but they're 520 kilometers away from the source.

00:21:37 Jordan Driskell
Right. You're not catching a leak with those.

00:21:39 Ian Cooper
So they're not getting the range of leaks, so our sensor is sensitive down to two hundredths of a kilogram an hour. A satellite is about 200 kilograms an hour, their minimum detection level, so we see almost every leak, but they're a good screening tool. Then you've got manned aircraft that obviously can fly a large area of land as well, slightly lower nearer the source. Typically, these are reflectivity measurements, so they have issues. They typically don't work offshore because of the reflection of the water. Another strength that we have is that we can operate day or night onshore/ offshore because we are a direct measurement, and the manned aircraft, of course, big issue. They're manned.

00:22:25 Jordan Driskell
People, equipment, insurance, fuel, all the... I mean, it is-

00:22:28 Ian Cooper
And they have their own scope one emissions, which to me is a little bit of anachronism that, if you don't see an emission, then you are surely a methane contributor, and then you've got continuous monitors, whether there's cameras or fixed sensors that are essentially smoke alarms to me. I think they'll always have trouble trying to quantify just because of the complexity of understanding the wind fields around oil and gas equipment, but I have smoke detectors at home. I don't ask them how big my fire is, but they all work in unison as part of this overall package, and they're all necessary. I think this is where the industry has been looking for a silver bullet where there is none.

00:23:15 Jordan Driskell
Could not agree more with that statement, and also, I am 100% going to steal and use your fire alarm metaphor. As I often say, " My favorite metaphor is the overextended one," so I'm going to have a bit of that.

00:23:29 Ian Cooper
I'll let you.

00:23:29 Jordan Driskell
I appreciate that. Thank you. All right, so if you have... We've done one thing with the tech talk there. Do you have any real world examples that are just sort of off the cuff that you want to talk about?

00:23:41 Ian Cooper
We are not just in upstream oil and gas. One of the things that are great about the relationship we have with Caterpillar, and I guess I didn't say about how I relate to Caterpillar. So we'll go back and I'll come back to answer that. When I was a venture capitalist at Schlumberger, I spent a lot of time looking at automation and robotics technologies. We looked at one particular technology, which was essentially like an Iron Man suit. Caterpillar was already an investor, and we got brought into that as an investment as well. I sat on the board with Caterpillar there, really enjoyed their outlook on how they were looking at the energy transition, and seeing how evolution from diesel to natural gas to all electric. So we started looking at other investments together. When it comes to me leaving Schlumberger and joining SeekOps, I thought when I'm looking at investors, " Who else would I reach out to that's got that kind of vision and also has emissions?" Well, Caterpillar, so I reached out to Caterpillar, one of the best investment experiences I could have; great due diligence, very good indication on how they time their investment, and in fact, they just re- upped their investment two weeks ago, so a really happy relationship.

00:24:57 Jordan Driskell
Well, congratulations and that's awesome.

00:24:58 Ian Cooper
I had to fill it. So in terms of the previous question, which was?

00:25:04 Jordan Driskell
Yes, yes. Do you have an example, sort of a real world-

00:25:07 Ian Cooper
Yeah. We're not just in the oil and gas space. We're in-

00:25:11 Jordan Driskell
Emissions is everywhere, so that leaves you a wide open market.

00:25:16 Ian Cooper
There are many markets. We decided to focus on three, upstream and midstream oil and gas, biogas, so renewable natural gas, and landfill, and landfill is one of the biggest contributors in terms of emissions. If I look at a typical-

00:25:32 Jordan Driskell
You don't hear that one that often, do you?

00:25:34 Ian Cooper
Exactly. Oil and gas gets the bad press.

00:25:36 Jordan Driskell
Sure do.

00:25:37 Ian Cooper
The issue is I think oil and gas can fix theirs relatively easily. Landfill has a much tougher problem, but I like the way they're going about it. If you look at a company like Waste Management, what they're doing is they're harnessing the gas that they might've previously been flaring by putting gas collection systems, and then upgrading that gas and putting it in the pipeline, and then either getting carbon credits or monetizing the gas itself. In that market, what we've done is we've developed a system where we leverage the terrain- following capabilities of these drones because, as you can imagine, a landfill site, ever- changing topography.

00:26:17 Jordan Driskell
Yes, no rhyme or reason. There's no map that's going to-

00:26:20 Ian Cooper
Dump trucks coming night and day, earth getting dug up, and that leads to very high emissions, so there's typically two areas on the landfill site. There's the active burial region, which is where the earth's turning, and then the waste in place where they've typically buried it, capped it, and then they drill wells to essentially tap the gas.

00:26:41 Jordan Driskell

00:26:41 Ian Cooper
What we've done is we fly a high- density methane survey over the surface of that landfill site. We've mapped out exactly where those methane hotspots are, and those gas wells they put in are not very deep, so the distribution of gas in the subsurface is pretty representative, we think, of what we see at the surface, so we've developed a technique patented where we tell them where those hotspots are, and then say, " If you want to optimize your gas collection, this is where you drill." So it saves them the money of having to mow the grass first, drill test wells to find out what the methane concentration is in the subsurface, and then put those wells in space, so huge cost saving for inaudible.

00:27:25 Jordan Driskell
Oh, yeah. You've just taken out a previously gargantuan chunk of the discovery process.

00:27:31 Ian Cooper
This was a technique that was developed by our in- house pilots. They just came across this idea and said, " Wow, we see this map when we process the data." They saw these various hotspots, and I used my drilling background from the oil and gas business to say, " Well, that's probably a 200- feet representative of the subsurface. Let's work with the customer in this case," and say, " If we told you to drill here, what would that do to your gas collection system?" So they drilled it and they love this process.

00:27:58 Jordan Driskell
Now, say the magic P word again.

00:28:01 Ian Cooper
They love that process and it leaves the profits for us.

00:28:05 Jordan Driskell
There you go. Patented.

00:28:06 Ian Cooper
Yes. And then the other area we work on is biogas, so these are dairy farms, livestock farms. Well, they're also looking to essentially monetize the waste. Poop to power, I call it. Really unpleasant, one of the first jobs I went on, I had my coveralls. When I came home from that, my wife made me hang my coveralls in the garage for about two weeks. The smell was so bad, but everything leaks on a biogas process. You're essentially taking the poop from the cows. You put it into a process. You put it into what's called an anaerobic digester. That's where methanogenesis, the methane is produced. That's taken out of the digester into an upgrading unit, very similar to what's put on a landfill site. That strips out CO2, H2S, and then that can be upgraded, sold, traded, and so we fly each of those aspects and tell them where their leaks are. The first time we flew this, the leaks were about eight times higher than the customer was thinking, and for them, because of the value of the gas is typically in the carbon credits, it's worth 10 to 50 times the actual spot price of the gas, so asset integrity, keeping gas in pipe is really important to them. Not that it's not important for the oil and gas business.

00:29:28 Jordan Driskell

00:29:28 Ian Cooper
For them, they essentially didn't want us to report in kilograms an hour. They wanted us to report in dollars per hour, and what they were losing, and of course, our surveys pay for themselves many times over with that, and so for example, for one company, I think if we looked at eight biodigesters before going on location, then after we'd told them where their leaks were, they'd repaired them, we literally had to stop them following us with a wrench underneath the drone. It's that important to them. We wanted to get an assessment of their site first. We got a nearly 90% reduction in the emissions before and after, which is in the oil and gas world offshore, because they don't necessarily fix everything all at once, we see about a 50% reduction between visits, and for us as a business now, it is all about-

00:30:24 Jordan Driskell
In one visit, you guys got one flight over. You identified all the source problems. They went, made the corrections. Second flight, you're down 90%.

00:30:32 Ian Cooper

00:30:33 Jordan Driskell
That is astonishing.

00:30:34 Ian Cooper
Which is real money for them.

00:30:36 Jordan Driskell
Well, yes.

00:30:37 Ian Cooper
Whereas again, in the oil and gas business, it's much harder, particularly offshore, to get a repair crew out. It takes a little bit longer, so typically we've seen about a 50% reduction, still significant.

00:30:48 Jordan Driskell
Statistically, yes, very much.

00:30:50 Ian Cooper
We are continuing to see that now. What we're seeing as we work with operators because they're still learning how to use this technology, typically the report that we give them is we mark up, " These are the leaks we've found. This is where they are." They will then go and tell us, " These are the repairs we've made." When we go back, we know if we see that there's no leak, we can put attention somewhere else then, which means a faster operation for them, less obtrusive.

00:31:20 Jordan Driskell
That is fantastic. Well, to close it out, everything has its challenges. What are the main hurdles when it comes to using drones for mission measurements and how do you think the industry's working to overcome then?

00:31:30 Ian Cooper
So I say there's a number of different problems. One is the workhorse drone is the DJI M300. I think DJI have a booth here at ADIPEC. You can see the latest and greatest drones there. It's a Chinese drone, so we have certain customers that insist on non- Chinese drones. The real drawback is there's been no US equivalent, yet. Really surprising to me as a kind of technologist that hasn't happened, yet. It's coming.

00:32:02 Jordan Driskell
I mean, maybe a subsidiary of SeekOPs. I don't know.

00:32:07 Ian Cooper
We're focused, sorry. And then I think particularly in this region of the world, there's definitely been some apprehension about drones, drone security.

00:32:17 Jordan Driskell

00:32:18 Ian Cooper
We are working with a number of the major oil and gas companies here, but it's slow progress, a lot of HSE vetting. The other issue that we have is data residency as well. Data can't leave the country, whereas we typically operate in the cloud, so we have to have an on- prem solution. It's not really an issue with the drone per se, but that data has to stay on location, which means a little more processing headache for us. I think the other thing that we would like to see a little bit faster is what we call drone- in- a- box because if you can imagine the large landfill site, I'd rather not send two pilots out. Just leave it on location, and whenever the operator wants to send it up, they can fly daily. In fact, one of the landfill operators essentially said they'd like to fly two or three times a day because we see these diurnal effects when the sun's been baking the landfill, emissions are typically higher in the afternoon. They want to know what that range is.

00:33:15 Jordan Driskell
When's their worst time? When's their best time?

00:33:17 Ian Cooper
Exactly. It's all about knowledge and information they've never had at their hands before. I think we've seen a couple of drone- in- a- box providers here. Tech isn't quite there yet, but I think I would like to see that accelerate so that we can have a drone agnostic system that we could deploy globally and leave it on location. Right now, we're still shipping sensors around the world to these third- party drone companies. Ultimately, I'd like to leave it with an operator on location so that whenever they need it, they fire up the drone, and it just does aa little survey, comes back, tells us to process the data, and that's how we make our money.

00:33:58 Jordan Driskell
I would assume, as fast as the technology in this particular space has moved, I can't imagine we're more than a handful of years out from being there.

00:34:06 Ian Cooper
It's coming, and I think the other area is the long- range beyond visual line of sight. I think we've been blessed that companies like Walmart and Amazon with last- mile delivery have been somewhat driving beyond visual line of sight, but in the US, if you look at the register of those that have got beyond visual line of sight waivers outside of the military, it's typically academia at this point, and so there's not a lot of commercial activity, other than those two commercial giants. Ideally, we'd like to piggyback off that, but if you could imagine today a long section of pipeline is done typically with a manned aircraft. Nobody wants to use manned aircraft because risk, flight, personnel-

00:34:49 Jordan Driskell

00:34:50 Ian Cooper
...expense. A beyond visual line of sight drone would be an obvious solution to that. It's not trivial, but it's coming. It's coming, and as a 30- plus year technologist, I've been pleasantly surprised by both the rate of adoption of this new technology, and I think in the oil and gas business, we've done something here that's unprecedented because if you look at traditional oil and gas technologies from concept to commercial acceptance, and this is something that Shell will wax lyrical about, is it takes 10- plus years, which is very annoying for a service company trying to commercialize the technology. What we've done in this emission space, and not just us, the satellites, the fixed- sensor companies, we've asked the operators to accept new technologies that didn't exist five years ago, and accept them commercially, and it makes them uncomfortable, but we've seen that adoption. We are doing regular repeat work with some of the world's biggest oil and gas companies now, which I think would've been unheard of 10 years ago.

00:35:51 Jordan Driskell
Truly would've. First off, well done. Congratulations. I think what you guys have there is going to be... Where it's going is going to be just as exciting as where it's been in the past couple of years, so thank you so much for taking time to come and talk with me today. This is Jordan Driscoll. This is Ian Cooper signing off on the Energy Pipeline. Thank you so much.

00:36:13 Ian Cooper
Thank you, Jordan.

00:36:14 Jordan Driskell
That was great.

00:36:15 Speaker 2
Come back next week for another episode of the Energy Pipeline, a production of the Oil and Gas Global Network. To learn more, go to OGGN.com.


Ian Cooper Bio Image


Ian Cooper


Ian Cooper is currently the CEO at SeekOps Inc, based in Austin, Texas, providing the energy industry globally with reliable, accurate and timely emissions detection, localization, quantification and reporting. He was previously with Schlumberger for 28 years, lastly managing their Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) activity, which he helped found in 2008, investing in 20 companies, including three successful IPOs and 3 acquisitions. He is also a regular participant as an expert at the Global Corporate Venturing Institute.

Jordan Driskell Bio Image

Jordan Driskell


Jordan Driskell is the host of the Oil & Gas Geopolitics podcast, and for his day job, the Vice-President of Sales & Marketing for PetroLedger Financial Services. Previously, he was the Director of Professional Services of WolfePak Software, a Controller for Tige Boats, and is a proud US Air Force veteran. He has a degree in pre-law and history and spends entirely too much time on BBC World News.