The Modern Workforce:
How the Energy Industry Pivoted from Horseback to Drone Tech
Even until late 2015, pipeline workers were riding horses up and down the lines. Today, the energy industry has gotten proactive with state-of-the-art drones.
Highlights from our conversation with Jay Fleming, Vice President – Gas Operations at NV5:
- How drone technology transformed the energy industry
- Using data preemptively to save human labor
- A deep dive into solar and wind energy versus natural gas
Energy resources will play a vital role in shaping the future — let’s dive in!
“I give credit to the younger generation, the new workers. They figured out the secret to life/ work balance.”
Trial by fire
Technology has changed everything, and today’s energy workers on the ground have a very different experience than they did back in Jay’s day.
He went from distinguished military service to civilian life and found his calling as a safety inspector after the massive San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010. Armed with a construction management degree from the University of Alabama, he worked long hours out in the energy fields of California to ensure such a tragedy never occurred again.
From dust to data
Starting at 4am and frequently working into the night, Jay and his team covered miles of rugged terrain, wherever the line went. Inspectors used horses to reach the most remote areas.
Now, NV5 has a cutting-edge geospatial program that provides complete monitoring and analytics and prevents disastrous accidents.
His workers no longer need to be cowboys — they need to be technologically savvy.
“The geospatial aspect does not mitigate the fact that people still have to access these remote areas, but it does give us a heads up to be more preemptive versus reactive.”
Jay Fleming is Vice President of Gas Operations at NV5, one of the largest engineering services companies focused on energy. With more than 100 offices nationwide and abroad, NV5 helps clients plan, design, build, test, certify, and operate projects that improve the communities where we all live
Jay points out that pipeliners were often on the road for six months or more and had as high a divorce rate as the military or police. Working such long hours takes a mental and physical toll.
The younger generation didn’t want to watch their kids grow up via webcam, so they figured out how to accomplish the job while still enjoying the good things in life.
Tech and staffing
Industry inspectors in the field are still crucial. But with the help of drones and iPads, they’re using their time much more effectively.
Today’s energy workers are leveraging technology to do more, faster. These are also not the kind of folks who want to be chained to a desk.
“Natural gas will always have a mainstay. We're just going to get smarter with it.”
A workforce of the future
Saving the planet means shifting to solar, wind, and hydropower, and building that infrastructure will take an enormous amount of intensive labor.
But natural gas is here until then, and perhaps beyond. “They’re going to continue to find out ways to make it more efficient, cleaner, and more cost-effective,” he said. Pipeline workers will continue to be a vital resource.
The US has plenty of areas where harvesting the power of the sun and wind makes perfect sense. But what will pick up the slack if it’s calm or if massive solar farms are covered in snow?
Jay’s excited about the possibilities of offshore wind turbines and a new methane capture project. Why not explore every possible avenue for renewable energy?
We’re going to “figure out a way,” Jay promises, “to be really smart with our energy and resources.”
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