Robots roll into Houston operations of global energy industry giant
Houston employees of Wood, a Scottish giant in engineering and management services, are helping drive the robot revolution in the oil and gas industry.
Wood recently received nearly $3 million in funding from Canada’s province of Newfoundland and Labrador to support development of robots that will carry out autonomous inspection and maintenance of onshore and offshore oil and gas infrastructure in that region.
“As we prepare for the transition to renewable energy, we do it knowing that oil and gas will be needed for the foreseeable future. Our government will continue to work to support the women and men who work in the oil and gas industry as we collaborate with industry to support new innovative ideas to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Andrew Furey, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, says in a news release.
Among other things, the robotic capabilities will enable constant monitoring of oil and gas assets, and earlier detection of methane emissions. Wood says that if the Canadian project succeeds, it could lead to the rollout of more robots.
Some of Wood’s robots will be roaming the show floor at this year’s Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), set for May 2-5 at NRG Park. An OTC session on May 3 will shine a light on the emerging sector of offshore robotic technologies. Rami Jabari of Houston-based ExxonMobil and Ross Doak of Shell, which has a major presence in Houston, are co-chairs of the session. Both ExxonMobil and Shell have embraced robotics in recent years.
The Houston office of Wood — which employs nearly 11,000 full-time workers locally and whose 2020 global revenue totaled $7.5 billion — has been toiling away on the robotic technology for several years. The technology already has undergone a successful pilot in Wyoming, where robots and drones have captured data to create 3D models of oil and gas assets.
“In a nutshell, this technology is making routine inspections and maintenance of assets safer and more efficient, leading to reduced carbon emissions and lower-cost sustainable operations,” according to Wood.
A key focus of the robotic technology is helping more than 100 countries that have pledged to slash methane emissions by 30 percent before 2030 compared with 2020 levels. According to the United Nations, decreasing methane emissions is one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve global goals tied to climate change.
Wood, whose U.S. locations are in Houston and Alpharetta, Georgia, isn’t the only company with strong local ties that’s innovating in robotics for the oil and gas sector.
For instance, Webster-based Nauticus Robotics specializes in offshore robotics for the oil and gas sector and other industries. Nauticus, previously branded as Houston Mechatronics, is preparing to merge with CleanTech Acquisition, a publicly traded SPAC, or special acquisition company.
The pending merger values Nauticus at $560 million. The company envisions generating revenue of more than $90 million in 2023, up from an estimated $8.2 million this year.
The first product from Nauticus, founded by former NASA engineers, is called Aquanaut.
“Aquanaut is an unmanned underwater vehicle that can transform itself from a nimble submarine designed for long-distance cruising into a half-humanoid robot capable of carrying out complex manipulation tasks. It can inspect subsea oil and gas infrastructure, operate valves, and use tools,” according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).