SolSpec Awarded Grant to Develop Inspection Tool for North Dakota Oil and Gas

SolSpec Awarded Grant to Develop Inspection Tool for North Dakota Oil and Gas

The project accepted by the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) is titled Development of Operational Aerial Analytics for Remotely Measuring Reclamation Success, and seeks, over a 16-month period, to develop, validate, and automate aerial imaging and analysis methodologies for assessing oil and gas well site reclamation progress within North Dakota, specifically in the Bakken oil fields. We are grateful for the collaboration of Whiting Petroleum Corporation on this project, as this research is only possible thanks to their support and access granted to their well pads in North Dakota.

Why is North Dakota investing improvements for well pad reclamation inspections?

North Dakota leadership strives to position the State as an incubator for oil and gas technologies that protect public and environmental health and also ensure industry vitality. Since taking office in 2016, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has promoted the development of a safe and sustainable oil and gas economy. Governor Burgum advocates that this development be achieved through technological innovation instead of establishing further regulation. In line with his stated agenda, Governor Burgum signed a bill in 2019 appropriating funds to establish a beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) program for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the state, with a focus on the Bakken oil fields as the program’s first proving grounds. A BVLOS program is crucial to increase the efficiency of inspections, especially in areas where the sites (in this case, well pads) are remote and often hard to access. With a BVLOS program, inspectors using UAS can fly to and gather imagery from sites remotely, without the need to physically be present.

What are the current reclamation challenges for oil and gas operators in North Dakota?

The short answer? Lots of well sites to inspect, most in remote locations, with few people to do time-consuming in-person inspections.

North Dakota is currently home to 15,571 active wells whose sites must be reclaimed according to federal and state requirements. State law requires that any land disturbed by oil and gas activity “shall be reclaimed as close as practicable to its original condition as it existed before the construction of the well site or other disturbance.” The NDIC endeavors to annually inspect each plugged well site until reclamation standards are met. Depending on site conditions, the full reclamation process of a single site can take anywhere from three to ten years.

As of September 2019, the State counted approximately 1,500 wells in some stage of reclamation, with NDIC’s 32 field inspectors splitting annual field inspection visits to each. Inspections typically take place during a 90-day window in the late summer and early fall, and when the weather supports a site visit during that period an inspector typically spends an hour
examining the area by foot. Depending on the varying backlog of sites needing inspection, a single inspector is responsible for covering approximately 50 sites per year, many of which are dispersed across a large, discontinuous area – the Bakken oil field and its wells stretch across nearly 30,000 square miles of North Dakota:

North Dakota contains thousands of well sites in need of inspection and reclamation (map source).

Reclamation inspections are resource-intensive for the NDIC and are further complicated by the subjectivity inherent to human inspections. Boots-on-the-ground monitoring means that a site’s reclamation progress—and whether or not a site is deemed sufficiently reclaimed for clearance—is determined by visually assessing and summarizing if the site has been restored as closely as practicable to original conditions. Though field protocols and inspection forms help to control for subjectivity and variation among many different field inspectors’ assessment techniques, it is still extremely difficult to standardize human interpretations of a landscape.

How can UAS help meet the challenges faced in North Dakota?

Innovation in the industry is focused on increased efficiency, and remote sensing technologies such as UAS promote increased efficiency and improved safety. Aerial data collection and analytics can offer insights that empower the oil and gas industry and its regulatory agencies to both save money and support environmental sustainability. The widespread adoption of UAS in the oil and gas sector, however, requires two essential actions:

  1. validation of the methodology as a means of reducing costs and fulfilling compliance requirements, and
  2. automation of data processing and analytics that derive meaningful information from aerial data.

Implementing these actions will bolster the adoption and operationalization of UAS for North Dakota’s oil and gas industry and agencies. The North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) highlights the state’s well site reclamation program as a candidate for improving efficiencies through the adoption of remote sensing technology.

What are SolSpec’s goals with the NDIC grant?

The project proposed by SolSpec and accepted by the NDIC seeks to develop, validate, and automate aerial imaging and analysis methodologies for assessing oil and gas well site reclamation progress within the state. Motivated by a desire to support North Dakota’s oil and gas industry in achieving safety and stewardship goals through innovation, SolSpec’s team seeks to empower operators and agencies with the best available technology and information needed to improve efficiencies, reduce costs, and ensure the safety and sustainability of oil and gas operations in North Dakota.

oil pump north dakota

Drone imagery and remote sensing technology will play a huge role in the organization and resource effectiveness for well site restoration in North Dakota.

Additionally, the aim for this project is also to maximize returns on investment for the State of North Dakota by addressing NDIC research priorities, including:

Data Management:
    • Consideration of which data storage architecture is optimum for data management needs.
    • Development of a trusted third-party data organization system accessible by industry and regulators.
Decision Tools
    • Consideration of how image processing can produce decision support tools from gross data.
    • Consideration of what data are visualized and provided to leaders for decision making.
    • Development of imagery analysis tools that enable cost estimates for completing site reclamation.
Cost-Effectiveness Analysis
    • Analysis of the cost-effectiveness of using remote sensing technologies for well site reclamation assessment compared to current procedures employed by industry and agencies.
How Soil Movement Impacts Right-of-Way Integrity

How Soil Movement Impacts Right-of-Way Integrity

How does soil movement impact pipeline and right-of-way integrity? Traditional integrity management focuses on the pipeline, but a pipeline integrity also depends on the stability of its environment. A pipeline that is structurally sound but buried in a hillslope at risk for mass soil movement is not safe. 

Earth movement puts strain on a pipeline and can cause a rupture or failure. These ruptures or failures then result in environmental damage and loss in throughput. A May 2019 PHMSA bulletin highlights steps that address the integrity of the areas surrounding the pipeline that may be prone to earth movement. These areas and other zones with geohazard threats are at a higher risk for future incidents. 

One of the common challenges with earth movement is landslides. There are two different types of landslides, also referred to as slips: translational and rotational. Translational slips are what you think of when you imagine a landslide, an incident when the whole hillside falls down and there is a massive flow of dirt coming off of the hillside. A rotational slip is when a bowl forms underneath the ground and the dirt moves below the surface in a circular motion. The soil rotates instead of falling off the hillside, which means it is less obvious that a slip is in progress. Since the change and movement is not clear to the naked eye, it’s very difficult to identify rotational slips until they are fully underway. Continuous monitoring is one way to identify the subtle changes that indicate more happening beneath the surface. 

Several conditions create rotational slips. In Appalachia heavy forestation and steep slopes are a challenge, but the soil also contributes to rotational slips. The soil there is based in clay, which tends to soak up water. Whenever water accumulates, it creates movement on and off the right-of-way, and can create serious risks for pipeline and right-of-way integrity. When there is a risk, being able to direct resources where they matter most has the greatest impact. To do that you need to know where to go, quickly. In both routine monitoring and incident response, timely information is key. 

Soil movement, among other changes, can be detected before it begins to impact pipeline movement, but only with routine flights to monitor gradual change and analytic models to interpret the data. Mitigation efforts are much more effective and efficient if they start at the outset of environmental change, instead of after significant impact has already occurred.

As SolSpec’s COO Bryan Crowe says, “Data is only as good as the decisions that you can make from it.” Given the right information at the right time, operators and contractors can mitigate these issues without a pipeline shutdown.

Timely delivery has been a challenge with data in the pipeline industry. If the data is collected but the report arrives 30 days later, how can that be helpful? A lot can happen in a month, and the delay with reporting combined with the volume of data and the lack of sufficient models to analyze and interpret it has left many without the insights they need to inform their decisions.

If you’re a decision-maker, and you’re responsible for a five-state region, how much time do you actually have to make decisions? There certainly isn’t time to go over a spreadsheet with thousands of entries and identify which ones are the highest priority. The team at SolSpec is focused on providing timely, actionable data, and scalable solutions that make it possible for a client to fly today and have the answer in the morning.

SolSpec Selected for Technology Showcase at Shale Insight Conference

SolSpec Selected for Technology Showcase at Shale Insight Conference

SolSpec’s ROW Integrity Management solution helps detect, predict, and prevent geohazard and environmental risks that affect pipelines.

DENVER, Colorado – Oct. 21, 2019 – SolSpec, Inc., a leading provider of aerial analytics and data management software for energy and civil engineering, will present its aerial pipeline inspection and monitoring solution during the Technology Showcase at SHALE INSIGHT™ 2019, the nation’s leading conference on American shale energy, industries and jobs, Oct. 23-24 at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburg, PA.

SolSpec is among only seven companies selected to present at the Technology Showcase taking place Oct. 24th from 9:00 am to 10:45 am. SolSpec Chief Operating Officer Bryan Crowe will discuss SolSpec ROW Integrity Management, an aerial mapping, modeling and inspection solution for proactively addressing landslides, stormwater runoff, vegetation encroachment, and other geohazards and environmental risks that affect pipeline right-of-ways.

“The use of aerial analytics for pipeline inspection and monitoring creates extraordinary efficiency and accuracy for Pipeline Integrity Management programs, delivering data and actionable insights that support safer and much more efficient pipeline operations,” said Bryan Crowe, COO of SolSpec. “We’re honored to be selected as one of the presenting companies in the Technology Showcase at SHALE INSIGHT and look forward to demonstrating how SolSpec is being used to prioritize how crews monitor pipeline assets to lower risk and prioritize resources while reducing operating cost and increasing safety.”

The Appalachian region remains the largest natural gas-producing region in the United States. Appalachian natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica/Point Pleasant shales of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania continued to grow, with gross withdrawals increasing from 24.2 Bcf/d in 2017 to 28.5 Bcf/d in 2018. As demand rises, ensuring efficient, safe and environmentally sound transport of natural gas through interstate pipelines and other critical infrastructure are paramount to the future of the shale industry. Identifying environmental conditions on and off the ROW that may threaten the integrity of pipeline infrastructure is crucial for expediting incident response and providing ongoing proactive issue mitigation.

SolSpec ROW Integrity Management is a data-driven environmental and geohazard risk analysis and modeling solution for analyzing known and potential threats to right-of-ways. A full-service offering, SolSpec’s team of data scientists and FAA-licensed pilots start by first collecting photogrammetry and LiDAR data within the right-of-way via manned or unmanned aircraft and create a baseline risk assessment with plug-and-play flight plans for ongoing monitoring of high-risk areas. Data is then processed via SolSpec’s secure cloud-based geoprocessing platform and proprietary analytical models based on analysis of over 1.7 million acres of landslides and ROW projects to create high-resolution maps and 3D models for comprehensively visualizing and quantifying risk to pipeline safety by measuring slip conditions, hydrology, erosion control, and slip potential. Models and analysis consider factors as specific regional population density, product type, class location, potential impact radius, and environmentally sensitive areas and produce simple, actionable easy to use reports. With this information, operators can allocate resources to the areas that may have the largest impact, mitigating risk, accelerating incident response and time to repair, reducing costs and improving public safety and environmental responsibility.

In addition to the Technology Showcase presentation, SolSpec will demonstrate its solutions at SHALE INSIGHT, exhibitor booth 334.

Hosted jointly by the Marcellus Shale Coalition™ (MSC), the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, SHALE INSIGHT™ is a leading and widely-attended policy, innovation and energy outlook-focused forum. As part of the conference, the MSC Research Collaborative will host the annual Technology Showcase on October 24, 2019 from 9:00 am – 10:45 am in which suppliers of emerging technologies introduce their innovations to the natural gas producer, midstream/pipeline, downstream and service communities. More information

About SolSpec:
SolSpec was founded in 2017 with the goal to improve environmental and public safety and to increase efficiencies for the energy industry. SolSpec’s aerial analytics and data management platform represents best-in-class data processing for all aerial imagery. Leading companies in the energy, oil and gas industries rely on SolSpec to transform aerial data into actionable insights that inform decisions to create a safer and more sustainable planet. Visit us online at

SolSpec to Present at 2019 Pipeline Technology Forum

SolSpec to Present at 2019 Pipeline Technology Forum

DENVER, Colorado – Sept. 26, 2019 – SolSpec, a provider of aerial analytics for integrity management of large scale land use projects, is pleased to announce an upcoming presentation at the 2019 Pipeline Technology Forum, to be held October 2-3 in Houston, TX.

SolSpec Chief Operating Officer, Bryan Crowe, will be presenting on Redefining Pipeline Safety with UAS-based Inspection Programs, 2:00 pm on Wednesday, Oct 2. (Conference Track Two: Remote Sensing and Emerging Technologies). Bryan will cover how the use of drones and advanced data analytics are helping midstream pipeline construction companies and operators monitor and identify possible vulnerabilities before they become safety hazards.

The Rising Need
Between 1999 to 2018, PHMSA reported a total of 11,991 incidents of compromised pipeline integrity, resulting in 318 deaths and 1,304 injuries, with over $8 billion USD in total cost (source) Most traditional Integrity Management programs look only at pipeline itself, leading to the development of technologies such as In-Line Inspection (ILI) tools to examine pipeline structure, strain, and stability. Yet a pipeline’s stability is also largely dependent on the stability of its environmental surroundings, as a pipeline can be perfectly built, but buried within a hillslope prone to mass soil movement resulting in an increased risk of a failure. Further, with record rain and extreme weather events resulting in widespread flooding, landslides, major soil changes, scouring, and erosion across the U.S., the risk is rising. PHMSA recently released an advisory bulletin about the potential for damage to pipeline facilities caused by earth movement and other geological hazards (see link).

Learn more through two case studies:

Operators need a more comprehensive, data-driven method to evaluate risk that goes beyond the physical pipe and includes its environmental context. Identifying environmental conditions on and off the ROW that may threaten the integrity of pipeline infrastructure is crucial for timely mitigation and adequate preparation for future challenges.

“Just as ILI technology is changing the way operators conduct internal pipe inspections, aerial analytics will transform external pipeline risk assessments and environmental inspections as part of comprehensive Right of Way Integrity Management,” said Bryan Crowe, COO of SolSpec.

Join SolSpec’s Bryan Crowe at the 2019 Pipeline Technology Forum for an informative talk on how aerial analytics are bringing greater value to pipeline integrity management programs. To view the full agenda and updated times for this event, please visit the event website.

The Pipeline Technology Forum is the major event of the year for geospatial professionals working in the oil and gas infrastructure sector. Produced in conjunction with Pipeline & Gas Journal, a Gulf Energy Information publication and the Geospatial Information Technology Association (GITA), the two-day forum features general sessions, technical presentations on the use of geospatial technologies, pipeline software and other applied technologies for the industry, panel discussions and exhibits.

About SolSpec
SolSpec was founded in 2016 to improve environmental and public safety and to increase efficiencies for the energy industry using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology. SolSpec’s Aerial Analytics platform represents best-in-class data processing and data management for all UAV and aerial imagery. Our analytics were born from 120 cumulative years in Natural Resource Sciences and are formulated to specifically predict and prevent unexpected occurrences in large scale land use projects. With SolSpec, you can make decisions from your desk instead of the field and ultimately reduce risk, time and expenditure. Visit us online at

How Can Big Data Impact Land Reclamation?

How Can Big Data Impact Land Reclamation?

Toby Kraft, Founder and CEO of SolSpec, spoke about “Playing Offense and Being Industry Advocates” at the May 19, 2019 Summit for Reclamation and Construction. The annual Summit, hosted by Huwa Enterprises in Keenesburg, Colorado, is a unique conference where professionals come together to learn, share, and network with industry experts dedicated to protecting the environment.

“So as all good millennials do, I wake up every single day and spend every waking hour engaging with some social media platform,” Kraft opened, introducing the value of big data by drawing a common big data comparison with the advertising world. Social media platforms store extensive information related to their users’ interests, and the massive amount of data generated by millions of users drives much of the backbone of modern marketing.

Why let retail be the main industry that capitalizes on big data? Why aren’t the construction and reclamation and energy industries taking advantage of big data for their projects? These are the questions at the core of Toby’s presentation. Collecting data and providing information from past and current projects can build benefits for all – we can learn from the mistakes others have made and drive future success. “A lot of you are probably thinking ‘Yeah, okay, that sounds utopian,” quipped Kraft.

Big data can empower decision makers in the construction, energy, and reclamation industries and result in safer, more successful projects. But success can only come from working together to improve our industries’ practices. Kraft called on his colleagues at the Summit to remember that “our neighbor’s failure or our competitor’s failure is our failure.” Collaborating and building databases of geographic information doesn’t weaken your company or strengthen the opposition. Uniting our data and sharing information is the approach that will keep our industries strong, because without it our future work is threatened.

Kraft’s vision with SolSpec is not just to identify hazards that already exist. Combining data gathered regarding surface hydrology, soil information, geologic details, and the massive stores of siloed data that runs across the industry and third parties makes it possible to predict future hazards. A prioritized list of current and potential hazards empowers decision makers to prioritize mitigation efforts and resources, and do better work for long-term success and improved community relations.

Diving into real-life scenarios, Kraft highlighted for the audience the value and impact of data-driven solutions in land reclamation and construction. One example was Appalachia, one of the richest areas in natural gas in North America. Recent construction of infrastructure, more in the last five years than in the previous fifty, has resulted in loss of vegetation in deciduous forests. These forests and unconsolidated soils cover the characteristic steep slopes of the region. Big rainstorms in this context can cause mass soil movement and landslides, which compromise local pipelines and assets. Compromised pipeline and right-of-way integrity cause undue risk, environmental damage, and financial loss.

Another example Kraft discussed was California, which is dealing with increased threats from fires. Last year’s Camp Fire burned 150,000 acres, destroyed the city of Paradise, and killed 46 people. The likely cause of the fire was a spark from a utility asset that caught the vegetation near the asset. Data gathered from flyovers and processed with analytics can reveal vegetation encroachment. That information can help direct fire prevention efforts around existing utilities and stop a destructive disaster.

“What could the headlines look like a year from now if we all come together around these issues and we get ahead of it and we play offense? What could the future look like?” asked Kraft. Fewer disasters, increased efficiency, prioritized use of resources, and improved reputations for our industries. To learn more about how Kraft and the team at SolSpec are taking our industries to the cutting edge, go to

If you’re interested in attending, sponsoring, or exhibiting at the 2020 Summit, go to for more information.

ROW Integrity Management Press Release

ROW Integrity Management Press Release

SolSpec has exciting news to share! We have officially launched our ROW management program.

This program attempts to address problems that are often faced in the field on right-of-ways (ROW). SolSpec saw an opportunity to use drones, computers and big data to provide clear, simple answers to the decision-makers who build and manage pipelines. Our clients are in need of a tool that is intuitive and powerful enough to solve complex problems. Geospatial technology– photogrammetry, LiDAR and analytics — provide them with information so that they can act on in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. Our clients dramatically lower their risk exposure, can predict where problems might occur before they happen, while getting more accurate, reliable information from the field, straight to their desktop in near real time.


Read more about it on our press release: