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Big Oil Predictably Gets First Access to Drones

Old habits die-hard and the tendency of military-developed technologies to trickle down into policing and into major corporations is alive.

by Natasha Lennard
Jun 11 2014, 10:42pm

Photo by Sarah Lovejoy

The possibilities for non-military applications of drones are vast.

Already, unmanned aerial vehicles have been deployed in Kenya in a bid to tackle animals poachers, small drones have been used to watch for police misconduct in protests, activists have also used them to record brutal conditions in factory farms.

Drone technology is not necessarily tied to government and corporate surveillance and shadow war apparatuses.

Drone technology is, however contingently and reliably tied to such applications.

Old habits die-hard and the tendency of military-developed technologies to trickle down into local policing and into the service of major corporations is alive and well. Drones are no different.

Ukraine says it shot down a Russian spy drone. Read more here.

So it comes as little surprise that, since drones have spread from military use into domestic surveillance and municipal policing, a big corporation — Big Oil, no less — would be the first to get FAA approval to fly commercial drones over land. BP is the first company to be granted the ability to fly drones over US soil.

The oil giant is now permitted to use an unmanned aircraft system to survey roads, pipelines and other equipment at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the largest oil field in the US.

There's some clear practical advantages to letting a giant corporation introduce commercial drones over US land.

Concerns about airspace safety were no doubt somewhat allayed by the fact of BP's vast resources.

Although, needless to say, BP's track record for taking care of given environments leaves a lot to be desired. But, I grant, BP is not the most likely candidate to crash a drone into a commercial plane.

The FAA received a congressional mandate to give unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) access to US airspace by September 2015.

Given the money to be made, the spread of commercial drones is inevitable: total revenue from unmanned aircraft systems is expected to exceed $7 billion over the next decade.

Drones are just airpower without all the adult diapers. Read more here.

BP is the first but will not be the last.

Significantly, legal precedents are being established in state houses around the country to ensure that the use of drones in the US stay distinctly and asymmetrically in service of corporate interests.

While UAVs were poised as tools to survey environmental disasters and corporate abuses, legislative efforts are already in place to prevent this, such as a Texas law that criminalizes taking any data (photos, video, sound) from private property using a drone.

Under the pretext of protecting privacy in the era of drone proliferation, such laws ensure that drone surveillance will stay in government, police and corporate hands, and prohibited from activist use.

Iran has reverse-engineered a US drone. So what? Read more here.

The decision to give the first over-land drone permission to BP makes clear what the direction of drone proliferation will be.

Big business will be protected and served, the rest of us will be surveilled and controlled.

Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter: @natashalennard

Image via Wikimedia Commons