It may have felt like a frozen tundra outside your home this morning, but imagine being stranded in temperatures plummeting to -30 degrees for several days. For a group of 74 passengers onboard the Russian-flagged Akademik Shokalkiy, this became a reality last week. According to CNN, a team of scientists and researchers travelled to one of the world’s harshest environments to retrace Sir Douglas Mawson’s 1911 Antarctic expedition. The goal was to reveal the environmental changes that have occurred in the region over the past century.
What these modern day explorers didn’t plan for, however, was becoming trapped in the middle of a bleak and bitter icy desert with piercing winds and severe storms threatening their adventure. Though the ship was considered to be “ice-strengthened,” it became stuck in more than six feet of sea ice. To make matters worse, nearly three icebreaker ships, which are strong enough to pierce three feet of solid ice, couldn’t gain access to the Akademik because of poor weather conditions. In the end, 52 non-essential personnel were evacuated, but both the Akademik and a Chinese icebreaker had to radio in for additional support from the United States Coast Guard to free them from their conundrum.
Now, picture this ship as part of your drilling operation. Many offshore oil and gas operators inside the Arctic Circle understand these hazards all too well. Suppose this ship was carrying supplies, products or personnel? This type of exacerbated downtime could result in major profit losses and operational delays. Repairs to the ship from ice damage could cost companies thousands, if not millions, of dollars, while safety would be a top concern for officials, especially if there was a medical emergency or a lack of food and supplies onboard.
The Akademik passengers made light of their situation, but a drilling operation’s crucial timeline would not be so forgiving in this scenario. Exploration and production teams must be even more vigilant in such remote locations as the Arctic, than anywhere else on earth. These past few days, we’ve seen how an Arctic blast from the north can halt travel, disrupt supply chains, close schools and government facilities and burst pipes. We prepared for this rare environmental phenomenon, but in the Arctic, this type of weather is the norm.
Knowing when, where and how sea ice, wind, wave height and severe weather will disrupt supply chains is now more crucial than ever. Hiring an outsourced weather department to monitor these unpredictable conditions allows operators to focus on the essentials of their projects. Vessel routing, aviation forecasting, access to a live meteorologist 24/7 and site-specific weather monitoring and alerting, are just a few strategies that keep operators ahead of competitors and the next big storm.