Environmental baseline monitoring in the Vale of Pickering

Sampling groundwater for dissolved methane

BGS, along with the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and York and partners from Public Health England (PHE), is conducting an independent environmental baseline monitoring programme in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire. This is an area where planning permission has been granted for hydraulic fracturing at a site at Kirby Misperton.

Monitoring

The monitoring is allowing us to characterise the environmental baseline before any hydraulic fracturing and gas exploration or production takes place.

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 2019) include:

  • Monitoring the quality of groundwater and surface water using an established network of monitoring sites across the vale
  • Monitoring groundwater quality and water levels in newly established boreholes drilled into the local shallow aquifer
  • Conducting time-integrated indoor and outdoor measurements of radon in air
  • Conducting real-time monitoring of seismicity at 6 surface sites and 4 sites installed in new boreholes
  • Conducting real-time monitoring of atmospheric greenhouse gases and indicators of air quality at and close to the proposed hydrocarbon exploration site (KMA)
  • Streaming of real-time data to the BGS website
  • Evaluating soil gas compositions from surveys at selected strategic sites
  • Interpretation of satellite data for assessment of ground motion
  • Continuing an analogous environmental monitoring programme around a site of hydrocarbon exploration in Lancashire

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 is 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 available to the public through the BGS website 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.