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Battening down the hatches

Written by  Jim Menard, The Weather Company Wednesday, 07 June 2017 07:47
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The Weather Co.’s Jim Menard explains how current advances in radar technology are enabling rig workers to get warnings of incoming weather, even in the most remote locations.

Surrounded by ocean, workers on remote oil rigs can tell when dark skies are ahead. In that moment, they can measure current wind speeds, but they’re often blind to what direction the storm is moving. Are they in danger? Often times, they won’t know until the storm is already upon them.

Historically, these crude methods of forecasting forces an abundance of caution that drive up operating costs. And, while on-shore weather alert systems do an okay job of forecasting and notifying rig workers about land-based weather patterns, offshore platforms haven’t been sufficiently covered.

New technological advancements are fueling a transformation that enables rig workers to get warnings of incoming weather systems well ahead of what their eyes can see. Deep sea rigs – as well as those in more commonly covered areas – can be more ‘intelligent’ and operate with increased safety and efficiency.

While we will never be able to control the weather, we can now forecast conditions with greater accuracy in even the most remote locations, allowing platform crews to collect localized weather data, process this data against a historical context, and display forecasts in a digestible manner that non-meteorologists can act upon quickly.

 View of an on-site sweeping radar scan. Images from The Weather Co.

Optimize ops to counter volatile oil pricing

Each week millions of dollars are spent operating each oil rig; weather fluctuations are unwelcome, costly interruptions. Despite the heavy burden of even temporarily shutting down operations, crew safety and the risk of equipment damage must be considered when operating in offshore marine environments.

With incomplete forecasts, the crew must err on the side of safety, which means shutting down operations or evacuating.  Although weather fluctuations do not account for every death or injury, weather plays a key role in creating dangerous scenarios. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transportation accidents account for 51% of offshore oil operation deaths, many of which are caused by adverse weather conditions.

Building a reliable, on-platform weather monitoring and forecast system is not just possible, it’s now reality – and the timing couldn’t be better. When an oil rig has to shut down because of weather, costs add up fast and hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars can be lost during one severe weather event. With oil price volatility here to stay, any opportunity to maintain predictable production is a welcome boost to profitability.

Detailed weather conditions displayed for a specific rig location, including current real-time observations, daily forecast overview, hourly precipitation, and wind speed and direction.

Radar boosts preparedness

Radar technology provides a much-needed foundation for observing current conditions and effectively forecasting hyperlocal weather patterns. But historically, radar devices installed on rigs were large and the cost prohibitive because each device required a dedicated tower.

Current advances in radar technology have significantly reduced this barrier-to-entry. Time and technology have made it much less expensive and disruptive to create weather forecasting systems that are practical as facility installations.

The Weather Company’s X-Band radar systems, for example, now trump traditional, cumbersome C-Band radar systems, whichrequire advanced engineering to erect a full tower to engage the radar – clocking in as both more expensive and more complicated.

The systems comprise radar and analysis equipment that can create sophisticated, high-resolution models to predict rain, wind, and other weather phenomena. They can be run at a high resolution to more properly and effectively prepare the rig for incoming weather and allow the operators to make better decisions in the face of poor conditions.

And, X-Band radar systems calibrated for weather monitoring provide forecast data in a package roughly the size of your average human – allowing a mobile installation and making civil engineering efforts easier. Computer power has also become cheaper.

We can now bring extremely detailed data to remote oceanic regions with forecast technology that’s more readily available on mobile devices and PCs. Crews can now receive precise forecasts of how their location might be impacted by weather that is 50-60 miles away, providing sufficient notice to take action without overcompensating for storms headed away from their location.

Today, an offshore oil exploration and production team can use X-Band radar systems to decrease the risk of crew injuries, equipment failure, and unnecessary shut downs and transportation delays while improving maintenance efficiency.

Easy-to-interpret

Weather modeling is a complex science with a wide range of factors. Interpreting intricate weather data is the job of a meteorologist – not your platform crews.  Platform crews have two primary purposes: exploration and production.

Thanks to advances in data visualization born from decades of serving consumers, pilots, and even retail marketers, weather forecasting companies, have perfected the art of making complex forecasts actionable. By applying these same techniques to on-rig weather systems, intuitive displays enable all crew members to react to forecast data with ease.

Gone are the days of marine-based weather forecasts that rely only on what your eyes can see. Leveraging data from on-platform such as the X-Band radar, end users can benefit from the same skillful forecasts millions rely on each day on land.

This include on-demand forecasts updated every 10 minutes, 15-day forecasts for weekly planning updated every 15 minutes, global lightning data, severe weather forecasts, and seasonal forecasts up to seven months in advance.

Jim Menard is the general manager of the enterprise group at the Weather Company, an IBM Business. Menard joined the firm in 1987 and has held management positions in both their Boston and San Francisco offices. His current responsibilities include oversight of its industry leading products in aviation, energy, insurance, and data services. In his prior role at Weather Underground, Menard led a team leveraging the largest community-based personal weather station network and mobile-based weather crowd reports.

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