UK Geoenergy Observatories

Background information

The UK Geoenergy Observatories project was formerly known as the Energy Security & Innovation Observing System for the Subsurface (ESIOS)

The UK Geoenergy Observatories project will establish new centres for research into the subsurface environment. The knowledge they generate will contribute to the responsible development of new low-carbon energy technologies both in the UK and internationally.

NERC, through its broader science base and with input from industry, regulators and policymakers, will use the UK Geoenergy Observatories project to provide the UK research community with world-leading facilities.

It is hoped that the first facility will be in the Thornton area (Cheshire) and focus on shale gas, and the second in Scotland focusing on geothermal energy.

The centres will allow independent, rigorous and replicable observations of subsurface processes and enable use of the subsurface for the benefit of society and the economy. The UK Geoenergy Observatories project will stimulate research on underground energy technologies that will answer vital questions about how they affect the environment through:

  1. Independent monitoring and observing - answering questions on how subsurface energy technologies interact with the environment.
  2. High-quality scientific evidence - answering questions on new and established energy supply and storage technology, increasing efficiency and environmental sustainability.

The project will improve our understanding of how subsurface activities aligned to energy technologies, could affect natural ecosystems and infrastructure on the surface, such as land use and water resources.

Research using UK Geoenergy Observatories infrastructure

The UK Geoenergy Observatories project is a capital investment and the facilities at the centres will be operated by British Geological Survey (BGS).

Strategic science conducted using UK Geoenergy Observatories facilities can be generated through the NERC strategic research funding process, via the NERC ideas process for highlight topics and strategic programme areas or through joint strategic response. It is expected that discovery science will also utilise UK Geoenergy Observatories for research, and the facilities will be available for innovation and training activities.

Applicants to NERC funding calls should note that it is expected that UK Geoenergy Observatories infrastructure will be operational and therefore available for research activities, from autumn 2019. Applicants considering research activities during the commissioning phase of the UK Geoenergy Observatories project, should contact the NERC Service and Facilities team at in the first instance to discuss feasibility before submitting a proposal.

NERC strategy

NERC's strategy, 'The Business of the Environment', identified the importance of increasing our understanding of subsurface processes so that we can use natural resources sustainably. The UK Geoenergy Observatories project will form part of NERC's long-term strategic approach to integrated environmental observation and data science. It will help drive innovation and growth by enabling scientists to work with industry and government to improve understanding of the environment.

The science will feed into energy sectors such as geothermal, carbon capture and storage (CCS), compressed air energy storage, natural gas storage, underground gasification and shale gas. It will also inform understanding of other areas including groundwater flooding, landslides, urban geological processes, Quaternary processes, geomicrobiology and soils.

The UK Geoenergy Observatories project will improve our ability to observe and monitor subsurface activities as well as to maximise their efficiency and reduce their environmental impact. It will contribute to developing, investigating and bringing new technology to market.

UK Geoenergy Observatories project science plan

In response to a September 2015 call, the scientific and user community submitted ideas for the science capability and capacity requirements of the project. These ideas were used by the UK Geoenergy Observatories Science Advisory Group (ESAG) to develop the UK Geoenergy Observatories science plan which is available below:

Science Plan (PDF, 235KB)

UK Geoenergy Observatories project timeline

Following the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), approval of the business case, commissioning the UK Geoenergy Observatories project began in spring 2017. It is anticipated that the facilities will be operational by autumn 2019.

UK Geoenergy Observatories Science Advisory Group

Since the Science Plan was published, ESAG has also advised on the location of the second site, and is currently providing technical advice on specific aspects of the project. Membership of the Group is as follows:

  • Professor Zoe Shipton, Strathclyde University (Chair)
  • Dr Grant Allen, University of Manchester
  • Dr Alison Auld, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
  • Professor Mike Bickle, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Andy Croxford, Environment Agency
  • Professor Richard Davies, Newcastle University
  • Dr Chris Green, eFrac
  • Dr Alwyn Hart, Environment Agency
  • Professor Mike Kendall, University of Bristol
  • Professor Ally Lewis, University of York
  • Professor Jonathan Lloyd, University of Manchester
  • Professor David Manning, Newcastle University
  • Professor Mike Stephenson, British Geological Survey
  • Professor John Tellam, University of Birmingham
  • Professor John Underhill, Heriot-Watt University
  • Dr Michael John Williams, Schlumberger
  • Ms Rachel Leader, NERC Programme Manager, Research (Coordinator)

UK Geoenergy Observatories Project Board

The UK Geoenergy Observatories Project Board oversees and makes executive decisions as required to ensure delivery of the project. Membership of the Board is as follows:

  • Liz Fellman, NERC Associate Director, National Capability & Capital (Chair)
  • Lizzie Garratt, NERC Head of Earth & Energy Science
  • Stuart Pryde, NERC Project Delivery Assurance
  • Alison Robinson, NERC Director of Corporate Affairs
  • Zoe Shipton, Strathclyde University and ESAG Chair
  • Nick Skates, NERC sponsor at Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
  • Mike Stephenson, BGS Director of Science & Technology
  • Claire Turner, NERC Head of Financial Planning
  • Tim Wheeler, NERC Director of Research & Innovation
  • Ms Rachel Leader, NERC Programme Manager, Research (Coordinator)