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Pipeline Law Alert - Cleared for Takeoff: Senate Bill Could Pave Way for Use of Drones in Pipeline Operations

March 24, 2016   |   Atlanta | Chicago | Columbus | Dallas | Delaware | Elkhart | Fort Wayne | Grand Rapids | Indianapolis | Los Angeles | Minneapolis | South Bend

The UAVs for Energy Infrastructure Act (S.2684), sponsored by Senator Jim Inhofe and introduced on March 15, would allow oil and natural gas pipeline operators to use drones to conduct any activity that manned aircraft already perform. This bill would allow pipeline owners and operators to use unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) to monitor compliance with existing federal regulations, as well as to respond to emergencies, natural disasters or severe weather events. The Senator reportedly plans to include the bill in the Federal Aviation Administration authorization legislation.

Senator Inhofe explained that, “[e]nergy companies that maintain critical infrastructure, such as pipelines, are required to comply with significant monitoring regulations across thousands of miles of their infrastructure network. This legislation would establish a process to allow companies to use unmanned aircraft to meet monitoring requirements, which can currently be done with manned aircraft, on foot or in vehicles. This legislation also enhances the safety of our energy infrastructure by allowing companies to quickly respond to emergencies and other events with unmanned aircraft to assess on-the-ground conditions without unnecessarily risking human lives.”

If passed, this bill would enable pipeline owners and operators to use drones to more efficiently:

  • Monitor pipeline construction, maintenance, and repair, with minimal interruption for employees
  • Evaluate internal inspection reports and identify anomalies
  • Detect evidence of leaks or other conditions without endangering human lives
  • Respond to leaks and other incidents in a timely manner

Barnes & Thornburg’s Pipeline Practice Team will continue to monitor the bill closely as it moves through the Senate and House. For more information regarding the bill, please contact Pipeline Practice Team members: Paul Drucker at Paul.Drucker@btlaw.com or 312-214-8806; Jill Fortney at Jill.Fortney@btlaw.com or 312-214-4802; Beth Davis at beth.davis@btlaw.com or 404-264-4025; Paul Garinger at Paul.Garinger@btlaw.com or 614-628-1454; or Michael Elam at Michael.Elam@btlaw.com or 312-214-5630, or members of the firm’s Aviation Practice Group: Connie Lahn at connie.lahn@btlaw.com or 612-367-8706 or Clifford Maine at Clifford.Maine@btlaw.com or
616-742-3944.

You can also visit our Pipeline Practice and Aviation Practice Group online.

© 2016 Barnes & Thornburg LLP. All Rights Reserved. This page, and all information on it, is proprietary and the property of Barnes & Thornburg LLP. It may not be reproduced, in any form, without the express written consent of Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

This Barnes & Thornburg LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

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