Evaluation, Quantification and Identification of Pathways and Targets for the assessment of Shale Gas RISK (EQUIPT4RISK)

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway University of London
Department Name: Earth Sciences

Abstract

The project will identify, characterise and parameterise the multiple direct and indirect pathways within the shallow subsurface and the atmosphere (and across interfaces), which link sources of contamination and hazards associated with shale gas (SG) operations to human and sensitive environmental receptors, and surface infrastructure.
For each component of the domain (Water, Air, Solid Earth), Source-Pathway-Receptor combinations will be examined and then integrated in a probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) framework for quantification of the risks to humans, infrastructure and the environment. A key aspect of the study will be to understand how the risk profile evolves over the life cycle of shale gas operations - from single site to multiple operations across an area.

The focus will be on investigating the processes that affect and influence the near-surface (i.e. <400 m bgl) Source-Pathway-Receptor combinations (and their interactions). Processes that will be investigated include; hydro-geochemical controls on contaminant behaviour and transport, climatological and chemical controls on air quality, and attenuation of ground motion e.g. from seismic events. The on-going environmental monitoring at the shale gas sites in North Yorkshire and Lancashire, along with their detailed conceptual and geological models will provide rich and continuous quality-assured high precision datasets and information. The sites represent different types of shale gas operation in different geo-environmental settings. Information from these sites, along with other non-UK sites where project partners have worked, will be a starting point, with additional data from UKGEO supplementing the evidence base. Analysis of these data will then support the design of experiments at UKGEO and other sites to improve confidence in process understanding and test different aspects of the risk model under controlled conditions, quantifying properties and better characterising/quantifying uncertainty through evaluation of the sensitivity of environmental and human receptors. The experiments will also consider non-shale gas-related activities such as analogues and crowd-sourcing of information on ground movement. Attention will be given to identifying the key indicator parameters and techniques required to detect environmental changes arising from shale gas activity in both the short-term, providing early warning, and the long-term. This will include new technology tested as part of the experiments and case studies that will allow differentiation of stimulated reservoir source fluids and other contaminants from extraneous natural and anthropogenic sources in measured groundwater, soil gas or atmospheric samples. Improved measurement, monitoring and quantification will be critical to effectively evaluating and managing the risks arising from shale gas development and supporting the integrated risk model developed as an outcome of this project.

The project will address the following scientific questions:
1) What properties, parameters, and processes (biogeochemical and physical) of the shallow subsurface and atmosphere are most important for characterizing the key Source-Pathway-Receptor linkages and combinations?
2) What are the contaminant fluxes and physical hazard characteristics of a UK shale gas play and how do these evolve over time? What are main sources of uncertainty in such quantification?
3) What proxies/indicators/measures of environmental change/impact are most sensitive to the stresses induced by shale gas operations in the shallow subsurface and in the atmosphere?
4) How can the risks quantified for a single site be scaled up to assess the overall risks for a fully developed wellfield comprising multiple wells and the full lifecycle of operations?

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

This project will bring together experts in air quality, groundwater and seismicity along with risk modelling and model integration to define the different Source-Pathway-Receptors (SPRs) for a Shale Gas play. The outputs from the proposed research are relevant to POLICY-MAKERS, REGULATORS, INDUSTRY, members of the PUBLIC and the ACADEMIC community. We have ensured that the project partners represent these differing groups and have representatives from POLICY-MAKERS (BEIS, Defra), REGULATORS (OGA, Environment Agency), INDUSTRY (UKOOG, RSKW, Golders) and the ACADEMIC community both in the UK and Internationally as project partners.
The project outcomes will enable POLICY-MAKERS at BEIS and Defra to appreciate better the likelihood and nature of impacts from Shale Gas (SG) operations by increasing the UK-relevant evidence base. The improved understanding of the risks to receptors, particularly humans, infrastructure, the water environment and the atmosphere will also assist the REGULATORS, the Environment Agency and OGA, in management of the environmental risks arising from Shale Gas exploitation, delivery of effective industry regulation and environment protection. Accessible information presented in a straightforward way will also inform INDUSTRY and the PUBLIC.

The scientific outputs of the proposal will benefit the international ACADEMIC community by furthering scientific understanding of SG in the areas of air pollution, groundwater quality and modelling, seismic risk and risk assessment based on integrated modelling. This integrated project will be the first of its kind.
How will they benefit?

This proposal will assist the nascent Shale Gas INDUSTRY by providing them with a clear risk framework (based on ISO31000) that will enable them to both understand the risks associated with their activities and to communicate the risks to the REGULATOR and the PUBLIC. The development of a risk framework will help PUBLIC understanding of risk by allowing the relative magnitude of risks to be determined and effectively communicated. Further, the science proposed will enable an assessment of the impact of a SG play to be derived that is independent of those funded by the operator and regulators. This will feed into the PUBLIC debate and allow a more reasoned discussion on risks and impacts, and what needs to be done to achieve "safe and responsible" shale gas development.

The scientific advances envisaged in this proposal will be both domain specific but also related to their application to a SG play. The project will interface with the other Challenges within the NERC Unconventional Hydrocarbon Research Programme. We will work closely with colleagues in the Challenge 1 project to ensure our knowledge and experience is communicated effectively to the wider research group. Further, we will use the results of Challenge 2 and 3 to provide supporting inputs to our SPR approach. Where applicable we will liaise with colleagues in Challenge 5, examining the Socio-Economic impacts, to set our SPR approach in context and to maximise stakeholder impacts. Publishing within an academic environment will build trust in the impartiality of the results for the DECISION-MAKER, REGULATOR, ACADEMIC community as well as the PUBLIC.

The proposed outputs will be made available using NERC's metadata portals for data and for models as well as giving the datasets "doi" labels to enable them to be properly referenced. The data will be made available in real-time by extending BGS current web-based output for the Vale of Pickering and for Lancashire baseline monitoring.

Publications

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Nisbet EG (2021) Atmospheric methane and nitrous oxide: challenges alongthe path to Net Zero. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Shaw JT (2020) Methane flux from flowback operations at a shale gas site. in Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association (1995)

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Shaw JT (2019) A baseline of atmospheric greenhouse gases for prospective UK shale gas sites. in The Science of the total environment

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Woolley Maisch C (2023) Methane Source Attribution in the UK Using Multi-Year Records of CH 4 and d 13 C in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

 
Description A key finding of this work is the identification of significant losses from the gas distribution network in rural areas, through fugitive emissions from above ground infrastructure, and leaks from mains pipelines, that are not identified in the mapped distribution of emissions by the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory. Work is ongoing with the invetory team on how best to improve emissions estimates from facilities, and how to incorporate site measurements into the inventory going forward.
Exploitation Route The outcomes are being taken forward by Ricardo, with the help of the the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero, to engage gas distribution companies in the development of improved models for estimation of fugitive methane emissions
Sectors Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Mobile methane surveys and source identification as reported in Lowry et al. (2020; see publication output) is now included in discussions when considering the next stage of UK greenhouse gas measurement. The UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) commissioned a team comprising experts from Ricardo Energy & Environment, NCEO, NCAS and UK CEH to conduct a study drawing on the latest scientific knowledge to investigate the future role of measurements in tracking progress on greenhouse gas emissions reductions and targets. The value of mobile measurements formed an important part of the narrative in the survey from December 2021 to January 2022 that aimed to understand what the UK's monitoring, reporting and verification needs are. Workshop sessions in March 2022 further discussed the topics of the survey with the objective to reach a consensus on the future role of measurements in tracking progress toward greenhouse gas emissions reductions and targets. PI, Lowry attended these workshops. A report was produced based on the findings of these workshops. More recently the investigators were invited to discussions to discuss 'Improving the NAEI representation of gas leakage from distribution networks' with government and the UK inventory team, based on findings of the 2020 paper and subsequent NERC-funded work.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Invited participation in survey to discuss the future role of greenhouse gas measurements in the UK
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to a national consultation/review
 
Description Member: Science Advisory Panel, UN International Methane Emissions Observatory (specified commitment in the UN Global Methane Pledge)
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a guidance/advisory committee
Impact UN IMEO supports a series of experimental studies, especially with aircraft, to locate and quantify major sources of methane emisisons, especially from the energy industry.
URL https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/energy/what-we-do/imeo
 
Description The future role of measurements in tracking progress on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions and targets
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to a national consultation/review
 
Description Mobile integrated greenhouse gas assessment system (MIGGAS): targetting Net Zero.
Amount £273,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/T009268/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2019 
End 09/2020
 
Description Controlled release experiment 
Organisation LiCor Biosciences
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution RHUL provided instruments and survey vehicle for the controlled release experiment
Collaborator Contribution LiCor Biosciences UK brought their new greenhouse gas instrument to the controlled release experiment and fitted this into our survey vehicle NPL provided and set up the controlled release facility
Impact Manuscript in preparation
Start Year 2019
 
Description Controlled release experiment 
Organisation National Physical Laboratory
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution RHUL provided instruments and survey vehicle for the controlled release experiment
Collaborator Contribution LiCor Biosciences UK brought their new greenhouse gas instrument to the controlled release experiment and fitted this into our survey vehicle NPL provided and set up the controlled release facility
Impact Manuscript in preparation
Start Year 2019
 
Description Measuring methane emissions from former collieries 
Organisation Infinis Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Measurements of methane downwind of a former colliery to assess whether emissions to atmosphere were still present.
Collaborator Contribution Arranged access to the site and discussed the potential for emissions.
Impact A report has been provided to Infinis. Further outputs are still to be discussed.
Start Year 2021
 
Description COP26 Innovation Showcase Panel Meeting: 'What role does measurement play in climate action?' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an online event which was run during the COP26 conference. Methods for using measurements to quantify methane emissions were presented by PhD students, followed by a panel discussion. Mobile greenhouse gas measurements using the MIGGAS equipment were demonstrated. Over 80 delegates attended and Mentimeter was used to gain audience feedback showing an increased understanding of the role that measurements play in quantifying greenhouse gas emissions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Financial Times newspaper article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Collaboration and interview with the Financial Times to report mobile methane measurements in Glasgow. The web version of the article included an illustration of measurements used using the MIGGAS equipment. Led to a front page article 'Methane leak near COP26 venue underscores emissions challenge' on 23rd October 2021 (8 days before the start of COP26). The purpose was to highlight the types of methane sources that are present in cities and are cost effective to reduce, and the ability of mobile instrumentation to detect these. There was a great deal of interest in this work at COP26, especially as it links closely to the Global Methane Pledge.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.ft.com/content/c9c43e4f-c83e-42e4-a815-9266b970af7a
 
Description Interview for national news 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview by project investigator, Prof. Euan Nisbet with the Guardian newspaper as part of the article "Revealed: 1000 superemitting methane leaks risk triggering climate tipping points, published online 6 March 2023.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
URL https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/06/revealed-1000-super-emitting-methane-leaks-risk-...
 
Description Invited presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited presentation to the Gas Analysis and Sensing Group 83rd Colloquium, a body consisting of academics, industry and professional practitioners
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.gasg.info/?page=pdfdownload&pdfname=83rd%20GASG%20Colloquium%20Programme%20and%20Registr...
 
Description Participation at COP26 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Rebecca Fisher attended COP26 as an observer. Participated in 1-to-1 and small group discussions on the Global methane pledge, and how mobile and isotopic measurements can be used to identify sources that can be reduced.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Public Outreach Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Activity to inform general public, local press and local MP of the current and planned research into shale gas activities in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire. Displays of geology, atmospheric monitoring equipment and posters of findings, including oral presentations. Half-day afternoon / early evening event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Stakeholder Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Nominated stakeholders and interested industry and regulatory bodies informed of project activities in a 3 day field trip and workshop. Stakeholders commented on the project design and discussed potential collaborations including overseas
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description University Open Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Annually my university holds a Science Festival open day that caters for school-aged children and their parents. For the last 3 years we have set up our mobile greenhouse gas surveying equipment, with maps of surveys to interest parents and a giant cut-out cow for the children. We ask for voluntees to take part in the methane breath test and discuss the results with the participants. The take home message is that methane has many sources in the UK and that emissions from fossil fuels are just one of these. The dsplay lasts for 6 hours and visitors to the stand very between 20 and 50 per hour, often with family groups participating.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019,2020
URL https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/science-festival/
 
Description Workshop with government 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Workshop on "Improving the NAEI representation of gas leakage from distribution networks.' UK methane researchers discussed with government how the emissions from gas distribution could be identified, characterised and better spatially distributed. An outcome of the meeting will be dialogue with gas distrubtion companies aimed at better identification and quantification of leaks. There will be follow up meetings to discuss progress and a plan of action for measurement and modelling of emissions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023