Drones redefine Marathon Pipe Line operations
What was once considered a toy is redefining the way Marathon Pipe Line LLC (MPL) operates. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, are becoming useful tools that supplement and enhance traditional methods of pipeline inspection and maintenance. From viewing aboveground storage tank roofs to determining the best locations for emergency response equipment, UAS have earned their place in MPL’s operational toolbox.
MPL’s fleet of aircraft totals 10 and includes four models with multiple imaging capabilities to provide options when completing operations tasks. The aircraft are lightweight copters which give technicians the ability to launch, maneuver and land in areas with limited space or difficult terrain. The UAS’ size and weight also makes them easy to transport and deploy, proving they are an ideal tool for day-to-day operations.
The benefits MPL gains from utilizing small UAS are numerous, but the most significant is that drone use can lower employees’ personal safety risk by removing them from hazardous situations. Because UAS can provide detailed information via cameras or other sensors, the need to enter emergency response zones or erect scaffolding and climb ladders often can be eliminated. Additionally, when natural disasters strike, such as hurricanes or floods, UAS can be deployed and technicians can avoid the danger posed by high or fast-moving water. This was evidenced by MPL’s UAS use in response to Hurricane Harvey which struck the Gulf Coast last summer. You can read more about that emergency response here.
Additionally, in any situation where UAS is deployed, information and data are quickly available. This is not only important in emergency operations, but also allows for more efficient use of technician time during normal operations. The time taken to complete tasks which could consume hours using traditional methods – checking the right of way conditions in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, urban areas of Ohio, or expansive farm fields in Illinois – can be significantly reduced, thereby freeing up technicians for other important work. Real-time data also allows projects to be planned and executed more efficiently, reducing down time and eliminating unnecessary damage to crops, property or landscaping.
MPL’s UAS program is a comprehensive program which puts safety and security at the forefront. Going above requirements set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), MPL has developed a mandatory flight performance training program which ensures that participants are proficient pilots. A written Flight Operations Manual provides consistent safety and operational guidance across all areas so that MPL can continue to earn the trust of its right-of-way partners. Additionally, MPL voluntarily abides by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s guidelines for protecting covered data collected by UAS.