Virginia Natural Gas (VNG), one of four natural gas distribution companies of Southern Company Gas, announced it will be using aerial drones as another means to perform equipment inspections on its pipeline infrastructure.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), most commonly known as drones, will begin flights across Hampton Roads, as well as northern James and New Kent Counties for various operations such as inspections of critical infrastructure, right-of-way assessments, and the inspection of more than 5,500 miles of gas pipeline. The company is among the first in the state to use drones for pipeline surveillance and inspection.
"Southern Company, and now Virginia Natural Gas, is leading the energy industry in deploying state-of-the-art drone operation technology and elevating their processes," said Dean Barefield, Unmanned Aerial Services program manager at Southern Company. "We see parallels between our electric and gas utilities and the ability to integrate that technology. The addition of drones to the day-to-day operations at VNG will offer a cost-effective platform for pipeline inspection while increasing efficiency and safety due to their availability, range and ease of operation."
"VNG is always looking at new, innovative ways to help us continue to provide reliable service to our customers," added Zack Gravely, Asset Protection specialist and one of the new drone pilots. "Drones are ideally suited for inspecting equipment because they can safely and quickly deliver high-quality photos and videos of our system in a way that can minimize environmental impact and inconvenience for customers along any rights-of-way. This technology will be another tool in our arsenal."
Drones equipped with a visual or infrared camera can now be used for navigating and patrolling a segment of pipeline, identifying and capturing images or videos of areas of interest at pre-defined timings and returns.
Kenny LeSueur, Engineer and Quality Assurance specialist at the company, said "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."
VNG will attempt to develop a drone program for pipelines that its sister companies can replicate.