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Phillips 66  takes drones to new heights

Darren Wright has added many skills to his resume since he started at Phillips 66’s Humber Refinery in 2001, but he never predicted he would add drone pilot to that list. 

“I never would have believed this was possible 20 years ago,” said Wright, an Assistant Emergency Response Supervisor.  

Wright is among the more than 60 employees across Phillips 66 who have been trained and qualified as drone pilots since the launch of the company’s Integrated Drone Technology program. Among a number of advantages, drones help enhance safety and improve operational excellence in the field.

The pilots conduct aerial inspections and map out refineries using the drones, eliminating the need for scaffolds and other temporary structures. They also provide emergency response support, facilitating live coverage of potentially dangerous situations from a safe distance.

The idea for building an in-house drone program originated at the Wood River Refinery in Illinois, when Kris Becker was watching contractors fly drone missions to perform inspection tasks.

“I just thought — well, I could do that,” said Becker, a Health & Safety Specialist who now also leads the drone program at the refinery.   

The concept has since become reality, and drones now are a part of the company’s regular refining operations. Phillips 66’s Midstream business also recently began adopting drone technology to conduct tank inspections at its Beaumont Terminal in Nederland, Texas, as well as at its terminals in Pasadena, Texas, and Linden, New Jersey.

The drone program is one of several innovations that have been made possible thanks to AdvantEdge66, a transformational program launched in 2017 to unlock value through technology, innovation and value-chain optimization across Phillips 66.  

“We’ve come such a long way,” Becker said. “And to think, there’s still so much more we can and will do.”