Forecasting in the big blue
10 April 2013
It's no surprise that offshore projects are particularly sensitive to weather and marine conditions. High winds, treacherous waves and poor visibility make working at sea a risky business. When people's lives, and livelihoods, are at stake, the industry needs sound guidance to make the right decisions. That's where the Met Office's specialist Offshore Marine Consultants come in.
On a day-to-day basis, oil, gas and renewable companies working offshore rely on the Met Office's marine forecasts. But when a special project comes up, such as manoeuvring or fitting kit worth millions of pounds, they need intensive on-site consultancy.
Jim Pearson is the Operational Manager at the Met Office in Aberdeen and the Marine Offshore Consultant Team Manager. He manages a team of forecasters who deliver on-site weather-related services to offshore oil, gas and renewable customers - and their supply companies.
"When we're called in to support an off-shore venture, our consultants live and work with the project team to help complete a specific task. Our job is to identify safe weather windows by evaluating the wave height, wind speed or visibility - or a combination of all three," says Jim.
Working side by side
The Met Office's marine consultants work on a one-to-one basis from onshore bases near the site whenever possible - or offshore on rigs and support vessels. Depending on the project, their expertise could be required for anything from a few hours, right up to several weeks.
"Some of the most challenging projects involve lifting heavy, multi-million pound equipment on to new rigs. Imagine trying to keep a floating crane stable enough on rough seas to safely lift equipment weighing several thousand tonnes," says Jim.
These are challenging, marginal situations and for some organisations, knowing moment to moment what the weather is going to do can be critical to operations.
Much of a consultant's role is to build trust within the project team. In fact, this is as important as the forecasting itself. A consultant will meet with the team face to face, at least twice a day, and it's this regular interaction that builds confidence.
"No one has a crystal ball and sometimes the weather doesn't turn out as predicted. It's times like these when the relationship you've built up is put to the test. But it's how you manage these situations that really counts," says Jim.
The Met Office Marine Consultancy team works all around the globe. "One day we can be as close as Wick on the northern Scottish coast and the next, we can be on an oil rig off the coast of Saudi Arabia," says Jim. But for the six-month period spanning spring and autumn in the UK, the majority of the team's work is focused on the North Sea.
The Marine Business team's new challenge is to further develop business in the southern hemisphere - and they've recently hired new international account managers to do exactly that.
"At the moment, our team is made up of 10 people, but we've just devised a new training course to get our land forecasters up to speed with the technicalities of marine forecasting. That way we're ready when the new business comes in," says Jim.
The team has big plans for the year ahead. As Jim says, "Our training course is going really well - and by next year, the team will have grown to 15 people. With more people, and a focused push to find new clients further afield, we're hoping to find fresh opportunities so we can work offshore, 365 days a year."