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Drone Mapping at the Largest Oil Storage Facility in North America

Following Up With Hover Visions After Their Cushing Mapping Project

Tue Dec 06 2016 00:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Cushing, Oklahoma. Home to 7,800 residents and 85 million barrels of crude oil storage. This 7.6 square mile area is the largest crude oil storage facility in North America. Not surprisingly, it is also home to many new construction projects by some of the biggest energy companies. As Dale Parrish of Hover Visions can attest, a place like this is well suited to reap the benefits of what drone mapping can do for the oil and gas industry.

Dale has been using DroneDeploy to enhance his commercial drone business ever since he signed on as a beta tester for the app in 2015. In addition to being an FAA section 333-holding drone operator, he is also a 30-year veteran of the fire service and a professional pilot with over 400 hours of flight time. He is based about an hour’s drive outside of Cushing.

In the fall of 2015, Dale was hired to provide drone photography to help monitor construction of an oil storage site in Cushing. But, being an experienced DroneDeploy user, he didn’t stop there. He knew the oil storage project managers could benefit from the comprehensive maps that the app could produce. So he set out show to them just what they were missing out on.

Dale shared early results of the project in a case study produced by the DroneDeploy team. He has since successfully completed the project, with great results. We recently caught up with him to hear about how it all went.

At a height of 60 feet and diameter of 151 feet, the sheer size of these tanks makes on-the-ground oversight a challenge.

DroneDeploy Helps Project Managers Oversee Oil Storage Projects

Most oil storage facilities rely on standard photography taken via helicopter in order to get aerial views of progress. Dale’s drone service was brought in to take the place of these helicopters. This alone delivered a cost savings of around $3,500 over the five-month period. But Dale knew that DroneDeploy’s orthomosaic, elevation and 3D maps could be an additional tool, helping overstretched project managers become more efficient by conducting some of their oversight remotely. So, in addition to the photographs he was contracted to take, he offered to produce maps of the site at no extra charge. “I was already out there, and I had extra batteries,” he says. “I figured I might as well do an extra flight.”

When we first talked to Dale back in the fall of 2015, he was about a third of the way through his five-month contract, and interest in his DroneDeploy maps was already beginning to build. Each oil storage tank is required to have dykes of a certain size surrounding it, so that if a tank breaks, the spillage will be contained. The project managers and engineers quickly realized that the orthomosaic, elevation and 3D maps Dale produced using DroneDeploy allowed them to more easily monitor the dirt work surrounding the tanks in order to make sure the project was meeting federal regulations. The maps did not replace the need for onsite monitoring, but they significantly reduced it. Project managers were not only able to visit the site less often, but they were also armed with more comprehensive information to help them with their oversight.

Time lapse gif of the oil tank construction process, as captured by Dale’s drone maps.

Looking Back a Year Later

A year later, Dale looks back on the maps he produced in Cushing as a success not only for the construction project, but for his own business as well. By the end of his contract, not only were the project managers and engineers excited about the actionable data his maps provided, but the oil company executives had started to take notice, too. Dale says that until they saw his maps, they didn’t know all of the information that was available to them by using drones. Now that they are aware of what drone mapping can do, they can begin to factor drones into various aspects of their business model.

To this end, Dale stresses that one of the most important aspects of his job isn’t flying his drone or compiling maps. It’s sticking around for a few extra minutes after the flight in order to talk to people on the site.

“When I showed up at the facility, guys would come out of the woodwork,” says Parrish. “Construction would stop so everyone could watch me fly.”

“Don’t ever think that you can just go up there, do your thing and leave,” he advises commercial drone operators. “You have to interact with people.” Having those one-on-one conversations with everyone from pipefitters to marketing executives allowed Dale to get a better picture of what everyone was doing at the site. This in turn helped him to better explain to his clients how drone mapping services could benefit their work.

As for Dale’s business, he’s already starting to see positive results from that little bit of extra mapping work he did at the Cushing site. “The next thing you know,” says Dale, “I’m starting to get business through oil and gas companies, because they’ve seen the result…And all it took was one extra battery.”

Each tank has the capacity to hold approximately 250,000 barrels of crude oil.

An Earthquake Hits Cushing

Just two days before we spoke to Dale, a 5.0 magnitude earthquake hit just two miles west of Cushing. Although officials are taking precautionary measures by restricting oil wells near the epicenter, early indications indicate the oil storage facilities in the area did not sustain significant damage. However, in town, the facades of some multi-story buildings have collapsed. Given his history as a firefighter, Dale reached out to the fire chief to see if his drone maps could be of any help. When we spoke, he was in the process of compiling 3D maps to help assess the damage.

Where to Learn More

To get a full picture of the Cushing oil storage project, be sure to read the original case study. Also, consult our support documentation for tips and tools to plan for a successful flight, including:

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