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Modern weather prediction for West African oil and gas operations

Oilfield Technology,

With 55 times more lightning strikes in the Nigerian Delta compared to the Arctic region, detailed weather prediction has become an important tool in safety and evacuation planning. Still, oil companies invest 40 times less in weather prediction over Nigeria than in the Arctic.

A part of the explanation can be that historically West Africa has not had a high quality information provider on weather predictions. But circumstances are about to change radically. Weather prediction company, Ignitia Ltd, has identified the challenges and come up with a state-of-the-art solution for tropical offshore and onshore storm tracking, specially tailored for oil and gas providers in West Africa. Individual storms with accompanied lightning strikes can now be predicted and tracked in real time with precise estimations of time of arrival. This solution greatly reduces the negative effects on oil and gas facilities.

Storm tracking

Storm tracking is not a new technology; it has been well used in the US for hurricanes. Still there is a difference in the underlying governing physics between thunderstorms and hurricanes. Hurricanes with sizes up to 1000 miles travel long distances and can therefore be more easily predicted. Thunderstorms present in West Africa, which have only a size of a few miles, can be born, evolve and fade at the same location within a short period of time. Unfortunately, the intensity of thunderstorms is as hazardous as for some hurricanes. 

Lightning risks

Danger associated to lightning strikes and secondary lightning is well known. A study sponsored by 16 oil industry companies found that lightning caused 52 out of 55 rim seal fires. The report concluded, “lightning is the most common source of ignition”.  With 55 times more lightning strikes occurring in the Nigerian delta compared to the Arctic, fact is lightning risks are real. Safety of personnel and significant economical values are at stake. Thunderstorm activity also causes huge waves, high speed wind gusts and sudden changes of wind direction.

Offshore risks

Offshore facilities, being tall, isolated objects in the middle of the ocean, bear a higher risk of being struck by lightning. Offshore West Africa, the weather can change fast and it is not unusual that clear sky develops into full thunderstorm activity within 30 minutes. Any direct strikes to flammable materials on-board the offshore facility can cause devastating accidents.

Downtime as a result

Today when lightning risk enters a critical phase, evacuation and operation downtime becomes a must due to safety. This causes loss of production for the facility. However, many false calls are made due to lack of accurate information. With precise information and continuous updates every five minutes, safety can be ensured while downtime is minimised. This could save large revenue losses during the tropical rainy season, lasting over 6 months every year in this region.

Advanced measurement and modelling of tropical weather

Ignitia’s storm tracker for oil and gas operations is built on advanced measurement equipment and high-resolution numerical modelling of tropical weather. It uses a mix of empirical and statistical models; making the storm tracking highly accurate up to the minute. Using artificial intelligence to identify ‘maximum likelihood’ trajectories, the storm tracker has already run through 14 years of weather scenarios over the region. By continually adding new data accuracy of predictions it improves even more. This self-learning process can gradually reduce the margin of error even more as ‘experience’ grows.

Based on GPS co-ordinates of the user, the storm tracker can give ongoing information on predicted route and severity of rapidly developing thunderstorms. Also, thresholds for alarms can be pre-set in order to allow for simultaneous action from personnel in case of danger. The system can generate automatic reports, showing how the service has reduced damages and saved insurance costs. In addition to this, Ignitia also offers a 24/7 remote meteorologist. This makes it possible to organise a call centre for many platforms in parallel.

Lightning constitutes real risks for the offshore oil and gas industry. This is particularly true for West Africa. Accurate prediction technology and solutions could become a business game changer in the region, both in considering HSE and optimised uptime. 

Written by Cecilia Rehn with contribution from Ignitia Ltd.

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