The British Geological Survey is to proceed with a UK Geoenergy Observatory at Ince Marshes in Cheshire, a facility expected to help inform decisions on Britain’s future energy mix.
The study will involve the drilling of 50 boreholes from between 50 and 1200m deep across the 12km2 study area. They will contain a network of 1800 seismic sensors and 5km of fibre-optic cable that can measure earth tremors. The sensors will generate millions of terabytes of data on the chemical, physical and biological properties of the rocks over a 15-year period. The boreholes will also allow thousands of water samples to be taken over the next 15 years from between 50 and 400m below the surface. Some 8km of borehole drilling will generate 3000m of rock core, which will be taken back to the BGS’s national core scanning facility for laboratory analysis.
“More and more of the solutions to decarbonising our energy supply will need to come from beneath our feet. Ensuring we take forward these solutions in a sustainable way means understanding more about the system,” said Prof Mike Stephenson, chief scientist at the BGS. “Second by second, minute by minute, day by day, we’ll be measuring the pulse of the Earth in a way that the scientific community simply hasn’t been able to do until now.
“The UK Geoenergy Observatory in Cheshire will be a world first in its ability to observe the underground environment so closely and consistently. What we learn in Cheshire should provide a breakthrough in our understanding of how the whole underground system works.
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has commissioned the £31m UK Geoenergy Observatories, which will be operated by the BGS. Another site is being drilled in Glasgow, which comprises 12 boreholes over a 4 km2 area. The Glasgow observatory will allow the UK’s earth science community to probe whether warm water within the UK’s disused mine workings can generate a geothermal heat source.
Strathclyde University’s Professor Zoe Shipton chaired the group of independent scientists who worked with NERC to write the research agenda for the UK Geoenergy Observatories.
“Delivering the science depends on learning from research in a location typical of the demands people put on their environment,” said Prof Shipton. “The UK Geoenergy Observatories will enable scientists to answer a range of geoscience questions relating to techniques such as storing carbon, utilising rocks as a battery store for solar, wind and tidal energy, geothermal energy, and shale gas. The observatories will build up a really good picture of natural conditions in a variety of rock types and how they respond to change and apply this new understanding throughout the UK.”
Planning, engineering and construction of the facility will be undertaken by Ramboll.