As a result of intense pressure to reduce costs in offshore oil and gas operations, there has been a surge in support and use of ruggedized unmanned surface vehicles (USVs or ASVs) for several standard tasks in Exploration and Production (E&P), Inspection, Maintenance and Repair (IMR), and Survey operations. As illustrated in several recent case studies from marine construction, seismic, pipelay, hydrographic, and environmental applications, this technology is no longer in development mode, but has in fact become a key element in the re-tooling of the offshore industry for more efficient and safer operations.

This paper addresses and reviews a number of important design considerations for ASVs being used in the offshore oil and gas industry. Applications which will be elaborated will include pipeline route surveys, ROV tracking/touch down monitoring, LBL array box-in and calibrations, as-built geophysical surveys for pipelines, unmanned seismic energy source operations for reservoir monitoring, marine mammal acoustic and visual monitoring, and hydrocarbon leak/seep detection operations.

Included in this paper are case study observations and data from projects offshore Europe, Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean Sea, and Alaska. These results in several cases will also be presented to provide a clear comparison between standard methods showing the cost savings achieved by use of this technology. In all cases, the decreased project costs were made in parallel with no loss of data quality. In some cases, an improvement in data quality over standard methods was made, along with the decreased operational costs.

The use of unmanned surface systems in offshore oil and gas operations has become a proven cost reduction tool. A growing number of contractors and operators are now using this technology with good results. In some cases, operators are now specifying this technology be offered by their contractors in order to reduce costs, with measurable results. The decrease in at-sea man hours has also provided a significant risk reduction aspect.

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