Tuesday, 1 December 2015

BGS and the Comprehensive Spending Review 2015

The Chancellor released his Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) this week.  It is fair to say that our worst fear of a cut to research funding was not realised and, to his credit, the Chancellor has kept the research baseline funding at real costs - this means in line with inflation and better than the cash settlement we were expecting as a "best case" scenario. Nonetheless we should expect all of the extra funding from real cost to be targeted on specific projects most probably involving global development.

Nonetheless, the CSR does place a significant part of the research budget in a global challenges fund and as yet it is not clear how this will be managed; it could be top sliced or accounted for in the different parts of the new Research UK structure, which is likely to become a reality. Thus the various parts of the research base will report into a director of Research UK in line with the recommendations of the Nurse review, which recommends keeping the research councils, but strengthening their overall leadership.

BGS should be able to exploit the interface with a number of the research areas of Research UK and it is good that this is now an explicit opportunity, rather than something to be encouraged. However, the way research and innovation funding is awarded and evaluated will change in the next few years and BGS needs to be prepared to defend with quantitative based metrics, both its research and its public good value.  I also note that the research council has yet to decide its different allocations to individual councils and then internally within NERC.

The Midlands Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) was allocated a £60 million and the Energy Test Bed in Chester were cited. Thus we are well positioned in the geoenergy area, with investment in gas, new nuclear and energy storage.  Notwithstanding this, the decision to remove the funding from the Carbon Capture and Storage pilot projects is perplexing and we will need to evaluate where best BGS should be positioning itself.

Major infrastructure and capital investments were also outlined and BGS will need to provide the underpinning geological models.

Although the result is positive for science, both in research (discovery and applied) and innovation, this does not affect the restructuring plan that we have announced. The significant pay cost pressures on our budget from 2016/17 mean that BGS must create budgetary headroom and restructuring will enable it to position itself for new opportunities in the geoenergy, data and natural hazards areas. 

Repositioning BGS in the science landscape will be a priority in the coming months as the Research UK budget develops.

Finally, I commend the 2014-15 BGS Annual Review in which we intentionally focussed on the Public Good values of BGS, please read it: the science it outlines is excellent (sorry we cannot put all of it in a short report) and the format and presentation superb. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Baseline Monitoring in Lancashire

BGS is about to begin an enhanced baseline monitoring programme across the UK at locations with a potential for shale gas and oil. This will take place at sites where an operator's licence is held and planning permission has been approved for testing shale gas extraction. BGS plans to start field work in the north-west where the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has approved the Lancashire Monitoring Programme as Public Good research.

We intend to monitor
  1. Groundwater – including baseline and ongoing groundwater monitoring for chemistry, dissolved gases (such as methane), stable isotopes, organics, residence time indicators, and naturally occurring radionuclides (NORM) 
  2. Induced seismicity related to fracking 
  3. Baseline for operational fugitive emissions and air quality assessment 
  4. Ground motion (subsidence and uplift) - through iSBAS ground motion inSAR 
  5. Fluid flowback from the fracking process 
All data and interpretations will be made available through new webpages on the BGS website which are currently being developed.

Initially, two operators, Centrica and Cuadrilla, have agreed to provide access to their data and operations for the science-based monitoring programme, from baseline measurements through to hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and production tests to post operation (abandonment). We will do this with a consortium involving the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Loughborough and Manchester and the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) operated by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS).

Our scientists and those of our partners have already started planning field activities and will be intensifying actions in the region in February 2015.

We consider that this programme will:
  • Help regulators refine their protocols for the UK shale industry 
  • Inform the public, concerned groups and operators on baseline levels in the immediate area of a shale gas extraction site 
  • Provide the public with information and understanding on the effects of shale gas extraction 
  • Improve scientific understanding of the UK sub-surface environment for unconventional hydrocarbons which is significantly different to that of the USA and Canada 
  • Facilitate new sensor technology development for environmental monitoring 
  • Help establish good practice for industries involved in the development of unconventional hydrocarbons
  • Establish world-leading expertise