Environmental baseline monitoring in the Vale of Pickering

Sampling groundwater for dissolved methane

BGS, along with the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and York and partners from Public Health England (PHE), has initiated an independent environmental baseline monitoring programme in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire. This is the area where North Yorkshire County Council has granted planning permission to Third Energy to hydraulically fracture one of their wells.

Monitoring

The monitoring is allowing us to characterise the environmental baseline before any hydraulic fracturing and gas exploration or production takes place in the event that planning permission is granted. The investigations are independent of any monitoring carried out by the industry or the regulators, and information collected from the programme will be made freely available to the public. This information will also support peer-reviewed science.

The monitoring in and around the Vale of Pickering includes:

Current status of monitoring

The monitoring programme was initiated for all activities in September 2015. These activities and preliminary results are described in more detail from the links above. The activities over the project period (September 2015 to March 2016) have included:

  • Set–up of a monitoring network for groundwater and surface water across the vale with monthly water sampling
  • Drilling of new boreholes into the local aquifers for investigation of water quality and seismicity
  • Installation of 10 seismometers for measurement of seismicity: 6 at surface and 4 within the new boreholes
  • In–borehole installation of equipment for real–time monitoring of water quality
  • Installation of equipment for real–time monitoring of greenhouse gases and indicators of air quality at the proposed hydrocarbon exploration site (KM8)
  • Installation of analogous air–quality equipment at the sites of proposed hydrocarbon exploration in Lancashire
  • Streaming of real–time data on seismicity, water quality and air quality to BGS for representation on the BGS website; some data are available now, others will follow
  • Two soil–gas surveys at selected sites close to the proposed hydrocarbon exploration site
  • Installation of indoor and outdoor monitors for time–integrated measurement of radon in air
  • Interpretation of satellite data for assessment of ground motion

Extending the Lancashire monitoring

This project has built on the ongoing independent baseline monitoring programme started early in 2015 in Lancashire, around the two proposed Cuadrilla Resources Ltd shale gas exploration sites.

The extension of the monitoring programme into North Yorkshire has been made possible by a grant awarded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The current work in Lancashire is funded by BGS and the individual project partners.

The need for an effective baseline and independent monitoring

It has become widely acknowledged that baseline monitoring is required ahead of any shale gas or oil development in the UK. A number of reports have recognised its importance including those by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, Public Health England 424 KB pdf, CIWEM and the UK Shale Gas Task Force. Measuring the baseline enables the environment, including air and water quality, to be characterised before any industrial development takes place so that if any changes occur as a result of it they can be detected. This will allow the necessary actions to be put in place before serious harm is caused or, if no change occurs, provide reassurance that operations are being undertaken safely.

As shale gas and oil exploration and associated hydraulic fracturing is new to the UK, we need to ensure we take the opportunity we have now to collect robust data on the environmental baseline. Baseline characterisation such as this was not undertaken during the early stages of unconventional oil and gas development in North America. Recent scientific study has highlighted that a lack of effective environmental monitoring has led to considerable public concern and difficulty in differentiating between naturally high baseline concentrations of methane (and other contaminants) and impacts that may be caused by oil and gas wells.

The monitoring we are undertaking will be independent of industry and the regulators to ensure that scientifically robust outputs are evidence-based and impartial. The information from the monitoring programme will be made freely available to the public and will support peer-reviewed science. It will also inform future best practice, enable new technologies to be developed and tested, and develop the UK skill base.


Contact

Contact BGS enquiries for further information.