Virginia Natural Gas reaches new heights with drones to inspect infrastructure

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Virginia Natural Gas will be one of the first natural gas utilities in the Commonwealth to use aerial drones to perform inspections on its pipeline infrastructure.

These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, will begin flights across Hampton Roads and northern James and New Kent counties to inspect critical infrastructure, conduct right-of-way assessments and inspect more of 5,500 miles of gas pipeline.

Virginia Natural Gas will also conduct a pilot program for its sister companies in Illinois, Georgia and Tennessee, all of which report to its parent company, Southern Company Gas.

VNG will use self-shipping Mavic 2 Pro drones which will allow engineers and asset protection and construction managers to have the flexibility to use these drones in their daily work.

Traditional pipeline inspection methods have been slower, manual intensive, expensive, and have sometimes caused safety issues due to the surrounding natural environment. Although the gas pipelines are underground, they are accessible from the surface for maintenance and inspection.

Drones with a visual or infrared camera can now be used to navigate and patrol a segment of pipeline, identify and capture images or video of areas of interest at pre-set times and returns, VNG explains.

A team of three trained “pilots” will fly the drones. These pilots recently obtained their certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration and hope to have the program up and running soon.

“The use of drones is just one of many innovative new technologies that Virginia Natural Gas is using to be ready for the future. The drones will allow VNG to obtain aerial views of our infrastructure where access is sometimes difficult, which will allow us to minimize any environmental impact or inconvenience to customers along the rights-of-way and provide another layer of safety for our field inspectors. During storms and hurricanes, drone technology will allow us access immediate and eye-catching visual imagery from above pipelines and infrastructure so we can make immediate repairs to the system if needed,” the company said of how the drones will benefit its customers.

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