The UK National Geological Repository and natural resources

The National Geological Repository (NGR) has collections from both onshore UK and the UK continental shelf (UKCS) that are used extensively by industry, as well as academia. The collections underpin exploration for and the management of natural resources (oil, gas, minerals, groundwater, and voids for storing natural gas and sequestered CO2) and also support critical investment decisions, facilitate the development and growth of existing and new businesses, and inform subsurface risk and site investigation evaluations. The NGR is instrumental in the implementation of policy and regulation for government departments and agencies, has delivered efficiencies in public service provision and creates public engagement.

Background

Mobile racking in the UKCS core store — part of the NGR at BGS Keyworth

The NGR is an integral part of the BGS, and is a long-term, national science facility. The ongoing services provided by the NGR include:

  • management and online publishing of metadata describing the collections
  • online publishing of parts of the collections available digitally (e.g. offshore core images, onshore borehole scans)
  • conservation of collections
  • provision of facilities for core
  • sample and record inspection
  • sampling and analysis
  • curation of new collections

The work is funded principally by NERC national capability, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS, formerly DECC), and by commercial users.

Economic impacts

Typical photograph of UKCS hydrocarbon core.

The NGR holds the only publicly accessible collections of geological cores, samples and data from onshore UK and the UKCS, which are used extensively by companies and consultants engaged in exploration for natural resources.

It had a direct impact in underpinning critical investment decisions made by companies related to the economic viability of hydrocarbon deposits, costs of production, whether to go to the investment markets to raise capital, and whether to bid for a production licence. Between January 2007 and December 2012 at least 238 unique commercial users examined cores, samples and related geophysical data to quantify potential hydrocarbon resources, and to evaluate rock properties (porosity, permeability etc.) that indicate the potential ease of recovery.

The NGR holds the unique archive of UK geophysical, seismic, borehole, coal seam, coal sample and chemistry data. Modern reprocessing techniques greatly enhance the original data, enabling its use in the exploitation for unconventional gas in former coal-mining prospects, and these datasets have been used by numerous private sector companies in the past five years. This re-use of old data reduces start-up costs and improves project viability. Many oil and gas companies (including BP, Exxon-Mobil and EOG Resources Inc.) have recently sampled and analysed NGR cores for total organic carbon (TOC) content to evaluate onshore unconventional gas reserves.

National and international mining companies regularly examine NGR core and sample collections to make preliminary assessments of the economic potential of minerals deposits. This is a precursor to deciding whether more detailed geological site investigations are justified, which may require significant capital investment.

Since 2009, digital versions of some key NGR datasets have been released through the BGS website free of charge. Two notable examples are the collection of over 1.3 million UK onshore borehole logs and about 125 000 high-resolution images of the entire UKCS offshore hydrocarbon core collection. Releasing such data online on open-access terms has significantly reduced the cost of supply and eliminated access barriers. Drilling and geotechnical companies now use the onshore borehole dataset in support of their services for most desk studies, including ground-source heat pump and water-well installations.

Impacts on policy and regulation

The NGR directly supports government departments and agencies in the implementation of legislation, regulation and codes of practice relating to subsurface data acquired by private operators during groundwater and mineral (including oil and gas) exploration.

Groundwater

The Water Resources Act 1991 requires that:

'the Natural Environment Research Council be notified of the intention to sink new wells and boreholes for water to a depth of fifty feet (15 metres) or more in England and Wales'
'journals be kept of the programme of work, including measurements of any water levels and flow rates'
'these journals together with details of water levels and yields be provided to the Council'

Sections 3 and 4 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1946 stipulate similar requirements.

Mineral and petroleum exploration

Microscope thin section of gabbro

There are provisions within the Mining Industry Act 1926 and the Science and Technology Act 1965 to ensure that all information obtained from the sinking of boreholes and shafts for minerals (including petroleum) is made available to the BGS (i.e. the NGR). All such data are stored and managed in the NGR, and made available for general use.

Petroleum Operations Notice (PON) 9 is a regulation that sets out BEIS's specific requirements and licensee reporting obligations with regard to seaward (offshore) well and seismic data. The notice applies to all seaward surveys and all exploration, appraisal and development wells in seaward areas. PON 9B is the parallel regulation for landward surveys and wells. Under PON 9, operators are specifically required to deposit samples and related data for all wells at the NGR, for further exploration and research purposes, and enabling annual checking of compliance of operators with the requirements of PON 9. The NGR also supplies well and related data to BEIS's licensed data resellers, so contributing to the development of their commercial activities.

The sudden and unexpected flow of water from abandoned mine workings into new workings (an 'inrush') has caused fatal accidents in UK mines in recent decades. An inrush at the Lofthouse mine, Yorkshire, in 1973 killed seven miners, and an inrush at the Gleision Mine in South Wales in 2011 caused four fatalities. In order to avoid such accidents the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published an 'Approved Code of Practice on the Prevention of Inrushes in Mines' that stipulates that planning for new mining must:

'require a rigorous approach to information gathering which should include ... examination of records held by the NERC (BGS) which might be relevant to proposed workings'.

Such records are housed and managed in the NGR, and made available to users on request. The British Standard 5930 (Code of Practice for Site Investigations) places similar obligations on developers to consult materials held at the NGR during the planning phase of site investigations.

Societal and cultural impacts

Angle of repose

The NGR collections provide inspiration and source materials for cultural and artistic initiatives, including:

  • Jeanine Breaker, artist in residence between 2010–2011, who created works based on geological sampling techniques including rock peels
  • a two-year project, 'Look About', led by Portsmouth based artist/geologist Jon Adams as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad
  • a collaboration with Roy Pickering at Quarrylab. This is a cross-disciplinary artist's development initiative, promoting research, cultural diversity and new work in the rural/industrial landscape of north Nottinghamshire

The products of such artistic collaborations go on public display, raising the visibility of the collections.

The sheer size of the NGR core stores creates a strong visual impression, and the facilities have been used as a filming location for TV series featuring presenters including Sir David Attenborough, Prof Iain Stewart and Prof Alice Roberts.

Publications

BEIS Petroleum Operations Notices

HSE Approved Code of Practice on the Prevention of Inrushes in Mines

The core store was specifically cited in BIS's Our plan for growth: science and innovation (December 2014) as a significant resource for academia and industry and an important component of the UK scientific infrastructure.

Contact

Michael Howe: Head of the National Geological Repository