GAIL will deploy drones to guard gas pipelines to raise safety standards

India’s largest natural gas pipeline operator, will deploy drones to guard its pipelines, as part of a host of initiatives to raise safety standards that include replacing old pipelines and integrating advanced technologies. The move follows one of the worst accidents involving the firm in June last year when its pipeline carrying natural gas exploded in Andhra Pradesh, killing about two dozen people and bringing it harsh public criticism.

A government probe into the accident had highlighted safety lapses at the firm and prompted the regulator, Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB), to slap a penalty. “It (the accident) definitely shook GAILBSE 0.77 % in terms of credibility,” company chairman BC Tripathi said. The accident, along with a struggling natural gas business due to a global commodity crash, has hammered the company’s public standing since.

Ashutosh Karnatak, director (projects) at GAIL, said the firm plans to use drones to detect encroachments around pipelines, “the biggest potential hazard”, as illegal human habitations on the gas route substantially raise the risk of accidents and the scale of damage. GAIL plans to conduct a pilot in 2-3 months, wherein a drone will fly over a 200-km stretch of pipeline, collecting all relevant data using smart technology. It will soon issue a tender seeking the drone services, he said. “The drone will be more accurate. It will also ultimately be more cost effective as it can help replace our foot and helicopter patrolling,” said Karnatak.

At present, GAIL mostly deploys foot patrolling to spot encroachments and seeks local administration’s help in getting those cleared. It also partly uses helicopters for the job and has spent about Rs 15-20 crore on this in the past two years.