UK Geoenergy Observatories

Monitoring of methane in groundwater

The UK Geoenergy Observatories project was formerly known as the Energy Security & Innovation Observing System for the Subsurface (ESIOS).

Responsible development of underground energy technologies

The UK Geoenergy Observatories project will establish new centres for research into the subsurface environment. The knowledge they generate will contribute to the responsible development of new energy technologies both in the UK and internationally.

The UK Geoenergy Observatories will provide the UK research community with world-leading research facilities.

The capital project, commissioned by the BGS's parent body the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), follows the Government's announcement in the 2014 Autumn Statement that it would allocate £31 million to create world-class, subsurface energy-research test centres.

The BGS is delivering the research infrastructure and will operate the facilities over the 15 to 20-year lifetime for the UK Geoenergy Observatories.

The BGS has worked with the wider geoscience community to identify two preferred geological locations. It is hoped that the first research field site will be in the Thornton area (Cheshire) and will focus on shale gas and carbon capture and storage (CCS). It is hoped that the second research field site will be in Scotland and will focus on geothermal energy.

The research field sites will allow independent, rigorous and replicable observations of subsurface processes and enable use of the subsurface for the benefit of society and the economy. The UK Geoenergy Observatories will stimulate research on underground energy technologies that will answer vital questions about how they affect the environment through:

  • independent monitoring and observing — answering questions on how subsurface energy technologies interact with the environment
  • high-quality scientific evidence — answering questions on new and established energy supply and storage technology, increasing efficiency and environmental sustainability

The project will improve our understanding of how subsurface activities, aligned to energy technologies, could affect natural ecosystems and infrastructure on the surface, such as land use and water resources.

Research using UK Geoenergy Observatories infrastructure

Strategic science conducted using UK Geoenergy Observatories facilities can be generated through the NERC strategic research funding process, via the NERC ideas process for highlight topics and strategic programme areas or through joint strategic response. It is expected that discovery science will also utilise UK Geoenergy Observatories for research, and the facilities will be available for innovation and training activities.

The UK Geoenergy Observatories will provide the experimental infrastructure for independent research including commissioning new subsurface wells, monitoring, sampling and sample curation and data handling.

NERC and BGS science strategies

The UK Geoenergy Observatories are a fundamental part of delivering the NERC and BGS science strategies. NERC's strategy, 'The Business of the Environment', identified the importance of increasing our understanding of subsurface processes so that we can use natural resources sustainably. The UK Geoenergy Observatories will form a part of NERC's long-term strategic approach to integrated environmental observation and data science. It will help drive innovation and growth by enabling scientists to work with industry and government to improve understanding of the environment.

The BGS 2014 Gateway to the Earth: science for the next decade strategy identified the need to harness new technology to instrument the Earth so that we understand how geological processes act in real time. The BGS will couple this new understanding and existing research capability to rise to challenges across the world. We will remain a trusted, independent voice to help society to:

  • use its natural resources responsibly
  • manage environmental change
  • be resilient to environmental hazards

The science will feed into energy sectors such as geothermal, CCS, compressed air energy storage, natural gas storage, underground gasification and shale gas. It will also inform understanding of other areas including groundwater flooding, landslides, urban geological processes, Quaternary processes, geomicrobiology, and soils.

The UK Geoenergy Observatories will improve our ability to observe and monitor subsurface activities as well as to maximise their efficiency and reduce their environmental impact. It will contribute to developing, investigating and bringing new technology to market.

Call for science ideas

In September 2015, NERC issued a call for science ideas for the science capability and capacity requirements of the UK Geoenergy Observatories project from the UK science community.

The ideas have been used to inform the development of NERC's business case for the UK Geoenergy Observatories capital investment, and to advise on the location for potential sites and the design of the facilities.

Responses to this call for ideas were considered by the UK Geoenergy Observatories Science Advisory Group and incorporated into the science plan.

Town hall meeting

NERC invited the UK science community and others with an interest in the project, via a call, to a town hall meeting to help develop the science ideas for the UK Geoenergy Observatories.

The meeting was held on 22 October 2015 at the BGS in Keyworth. Its principal aims were to:

  • disseminate information about the project
  • provide an opportunity for UK scientists and users to come together and discuss ideas for the science
  • define the capability and capacity requirements of the UK Geoenergy Observatories
  • inform the development of NERC's business case

Town hall meeting agenda (PDF, 98KB)

General background and introduction to ESIOS (PDF, 1.1MB) Dr Katherine Wright (NERC)

Policymaker, regulatory perspective (PDF, 816KB) Dr Andy Croxford (Environment Agency)

Underground at DECC (PDF, 557KB) Dr Alison Auld (Department of Energy & Climate Change)

ESIOS science and feasibility of sites (PDF, 3.3MB) Dr Mike Stephenson (BGS)

UK Geoenergy Observatories science plan

To enable the UK Geoenergy Observatories (formally known as ESIOS) to meet the current and future needs of the scientific user community, a science plan (PDF, 235KB) was developed for ESIOS.

UK Geoenergy Observatories project timeline

Following BEIS approval of the business case, the UK Geoenergy Observatories project began in spring 2017.

UK Geoenergy Observatories Science Advisory Group

The UK Geoenergy Observatories Science Advisory Group was established to help develop the science plan. It is advising on the location of the preferred sites and on the composition of the borehole arrays.

UK Geoenergy Observatories Science Advisory Group membership

Professor Zoe Shipton (Chair)
Strathclyde University

Dr Grant Allen
University of Manchester
Professor Mike Bickle
University of Cambridge
Dr Andy Croxford
Environment Agency
Professor Richard Davies
Newcastle University
Dr Chris Green
Professor Mike Kendall
University of Bristol
Professor Ally Lewis
University of York
Professor Jonathan Lloyd
University of Manchester
Professor John Loughhead/Dr Alison Auld
Department of Business, Energy
& Industrial Strategy
Professor David Manning
Newcastle University

Professor Mike Stephenson
British Geological Survey
Professor John Tellam
University of Birmingham
Professor John Underhill
Heriot-Watt University
Professor Jim Watson
University of Sussex
Dr Michael John Williams
Heriot-Watt University


Please contact Enquiries for more information about the UK Geoenergy Observatories.