Headwall utilizes hyperspectral sensing technology as an essential industrial inspection platform and has made this technology increasingly valuable across a wider spectrum of commercial applications and most notably in the oil & gas industry. Companies in the petro-chemical industry focus much of their financial capital and effort on efficient pipeline distribution, refinery operations, and environmental monitoring. Not only for exploration, but also to keep to keep their refining and distribution infrastructure safe.
So how can hyperspectral sensors help? The lessons and knowledge gained from the remote sensing applications are directly applicable to the challenges faced by oil & gas companies as very remote and harsh territories are managed for energy production. The data-rich imagery produced by a airborne and ground-based hyperspectral sensor can provide answers to some of the most pressing questions:
- Are pipelines being properly monitored for structural integrity and vegetation encroachment?
- Are pipelines leaking products such as methane?
- Is there environmental damage that cannot readily be observed?
- Does a particular area hold exploration value?
In practically every case, these questions are posed with respect to some of the most remote and desolate territory around. The upper reaches of Canada, Siberia, and within the Arctic Circle to name just three. It’s practically impossible to simply drive over this rugged ice and permafrost terrain, which is why companies in the petro-chemical industry invest so heavily in airborne assets such as fixed-wing aircraft and UAVs as well as invest in satellite-based remote sensing data.
Hyperspectral sensors measure the intensity of solar energy reflected from materials over hundreds of wavelengths from the visible-near infrared (VNIR) to the long wave infrared (LWIR) spectral region. They can record visible light (comprised of relatively short wavelengths such as blue, green, and red) as well as longer, near-infrared, and short wave-infrared light. Reflected light is collected into picture elements (pixels) by flying the imaging sensor over terrain. The reflected visible and infrared light is subdivided into 100 to 200+ discrete wavelength bands within each pixel.
Headwall has developed a leading position in the manufacture and deployment of small, lightweight hyperspectral sensors that are specifically designed for the small, low flying UAVs being deployed. Not only are the sensors small but they generate high resolution spectral and spatial imagery. The patented, aberration-corrected design of the Micro-Hyperspec sensor allows UAVs to make fewer passes over a certain geographical area while eliminating image aberrations.
Crude oil can be ‘seen’ by hyperspectral sensors operating in the visible/near-infrared spectral bands. A phenomenon known as ‘micro-leakage’ yields hydrocarbon components in the surface soil and water, which the sensors can detect. There is a correlation between ‘micro-leakage’ and the probability of an oil or gas reservoir; detecting the presence of hydrocarbon is a technical means of making that correlation. Doing so from a UAV means a much more efficient collection of useful data as the sensor can be designed to ‘discriminate’ and ‘see’ precisely what geologists are hoping to see based on the spectral signatures of interest.
Other useful deployments of hyperspectral include looking at the state of vegetation stress near oil and gas pipelines. With legislation such as California’s “cap & trade” regulations being implemented, managing pipeline content and distribution network integrity carries financial implications for the producers. With this requirement, the detection of methane from pipeline leaks becomes critical. With pipelines several thousand miles long, airborne analysis is the only real way to collect actionable data rapidly and with some frequency.
Finally, oil and gas exploration companies are using hyperspectral sensors as a means of environmentally monitoring. This is very important as environmental changes are often much noticeable utilizing hyperspectral sensor technology to identify spectral anomalies.
In the situation of a spill, hyperspectral sensing can be invaluable in monitoring and prioritizing clean-up efforts. Over the course of time, the sensors can report on trends…both positively and negatively. Again, the ability of hyperspectral sensors to discriminate means more meaningful, actionable data delivered from a cost-effective sensor platform such as Headwall’s Hyperspec imaging sensors.
While the petroleum industry sees value in airborne hyperspectral sensing, so do companies in the minerals/mining industry. Because the cost to explore is prohibitive, innovation at the ‘front end’ means better exploration efficiency. The ability to distill large geographical areas into smaller land packages using airborne hyperspectral sensing means that the more costly assessments can be done where airborne sensing suggests a high probability of success exists.
During the exploration process, hyperspectral sensing can identify the presence of certain minerals such as iron ore and can also ‘grade’ them with a high degree of precision. A weathered environment can also hide the presence of valuable mineral deposits from normal explorative techniques, while hyperspectral sensing can unmask them. This mineral map for the Yeelirrie district of Australia demonstrates the ability of hyperspectral imaging to identify mineral assemblages in the presence of intense weathering. This particular map is indicative of calcrete-hosted Uranium.