Unmanned commercial drones are coming to the U.S., brought to you by the oil industry. This weekend, BP became the first company to fly an approved commercial drone over U.S. soil, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday, and it plans to use the technology to survey Alaska roads, pipelines, and equipment over the largest oilfield in the country. “We went through and thought about all the applications that we could use these for. We’ve got a whole list of things,” director in BP’s technology office Curt Smith said, according to the Wall Street Journal. In time, “we’ll be taking [drones] to other onshore fields around the world.”
BP says that the technology — a hand-launched small drone that is less than 5 feet long — will eventually lower their costs to monitor infrastructure for equipment leaks, damaged roads, and faulty equipment. But those aren’t the only applications for drone technology in the oil industry: Companies have also funded research in order to create drones that can locate fossil fuel reserves deep in the sea. And last year, ConocoPhillips won the first approval to fly drones in international waters at the same time it’s sought to explore drilling in the Arctic.
While drone makers expect the oil industry to be great clients, conservative media like Fox News and The Daily Caller have accused the Environmental Protection Agency of using unmanned aircraft to monitor farm land and spy on Americans. Those reports were false — the EPA uses manned planes — but congressional Republicans went ahead anyway to block the EPA if it so happened to acquire drones in the future.