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Delek US, the Fortune 500 Oil Company on Their Industry-First BVLOS Remote Operation Drone Flight 

We interviewed Ido Biger, the CIO & Chief Data Officer for Delek US, at the 2023 Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas. Delek US is a Fortune 500 downstream energy company with assets in petroleum refining, logistics, convenience stores, asphalt, and renewables. 

Founded in 2001, Delek US developed its sound foundation in crude oil. With its core based on safety, reliability and ethical decision-making, they became the first US company to receive BVLOS approval from the FAA and operate a remote drone flight in a refinery. 

How the Introduction of BVLOS Drones Changed the Way Delek US Operates

Ido detailed that safe and reliable operations are at the core of business at Delek US. As the last refinery was built in 1980, the company knew there was a need to maintain the foundations and functionalities of the processing plant. “We’re utilising drones as part of our safety capabilities to improve our safe level operations.”

With safety, cybersecurity and how to integrate them into a platform's already existing infrastructure being a big part of the drone industry today, we asked Ido how Delek US prepared during the lead-up to their BVLOS refinery launch.

He explained that the main responsibility for his division was the infrastructure, network and operations. 

On a daily basis, the company is working with various solution providers, including Percepto, an autonomous and monitoring drone solution provider. Delek US is also an investor in Percepto, and Ido tolds us the two companies worked together on the build and design of their system to secure their FAA approval for BVLOS in the USA. 

“We’re proud to be the first oil and gas company to utilise the BVLOS and fly remotely from a pilot in Nashville, flying the drone in Arkansas”.

Delek’s Improved Efficiency, Thanks to The FAA Approved BVLOS Waiver 

Ido told us that with the FAA waiver approval for BVLOS, Delek US was able to change the way that they operate. They can now save time with regard to work that can be completed within the headquarters, which leaves more time for on-site professionals to focus on other areas. While the team are careful to keep some emergency response pilots in the assets, they can now also support daily operations remotely as part of their Eye in the Sky program. 

The Expansion of Drones within Delek US

We asked Ido about the scale and growth of Delek’s drone solutions. He told us that they began small, using drones for inspections in tanks and valves, and gradually built on that. He said they are using drones regularly and have 8 drones in total, two in each refinery. 

Ido explained that one of the two drones is for optical gas imaging (OGI), and the other is a 24-megapixel with infrared capabilities. By starting small and operating from use case to use case, the team could maintain and measure the value to expand the programme.

Drones and their Benefits to Human-driven Solutions

We inquired if Ido could share some numbers related to Delek US and their financial stockpile with the addition of their drone solution. He told us his team is in the process of measuring it. Although he could not share exact numbers, he said that the drone solution was saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars per year per site.

Ido also mentioned that the value of time was difficult to measure regarding revenue. He and his team use various techniques to report their results. He gave us one example of a start-up involving a fire in one of the company’s tanks. He told us the fire was so big that the emergency team could not see that they were not aiming at the fire with the hose. Using the drone as a secondary support, they could see exactly where they needed to move the hose closer. With this additional support, they could signifantly reduce the time to put out the fire.
“I think it's a very promising way of collaborating. It's not going to replace the human; it's going to be a second layer of support. And definitely, the daily routines and inspections can prevent a lot of things.” he explained to us during the interview.

Ido revealed that he applied his background in the data field to autonomous missions. He observed that small anomalies can build slowly over time. A human perspective could potentially miss these details, but by utilising software data combined with drones, you could follow the changes as they are happening.

Delek’s User Perspective on the Future of the Drone Industry

Ido shared his thoughts on where the drone industry is headed. He narrowed it down into three stages. The first was to collect and collaborate as a community. “ A lot of people are doing great things around you. We're learning a lot from electrical companies creating power distribution hotspots. It's easy for us to see their use cases and implement it in our core system,’ he said.

According to Ido, the second stage is how to operationalise drone technology and adapt it to a company's existing technology. He mentioned that part of this was scheduling routines and outlining the analytical capabilities. This, he believes, will speed up the processes and collaboration between departments internally. 

Ido’s final stage, from a user perspective, was to utilise the remote factor. He said that with Delek’s FAA approval, they have been able to begin building a new model. He called it the Layers Model, and using BVLOS, the drone operation will allow first responders to react sooner in an emergency.

About Delek US:

Delek US is a diversified downstream energy company with petroleum refining, logistics, renewable fuels, and convenience store retailing assets. Their refineries are operated in Tyler and Big Spring, Texas, El Dorado, Arkansas and Krotz Springs, Louisiana, which combined produce 302,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Their refining segment includes renewables operations, providing approximately 40 million gallons of annual biodiesel production capacity across three facilities in Crossett, Arkansas, Cleburne, Texas and New Albany, Mississippi.

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