Innovation Programme in Oil and Gas

In pursuing its remit, NERC invests in world-leading research, training and innovation across the energy spectrum to provide society with evidence and expertise to inform decision-making.

Through the Innovation Programme in Oil and Gas, NERC focus is to understand the challenges and issues facing the oil and gas sector as a whole, and where opportunities exist for environmental science to be translated for its maximum economic and societal impact.

The Innovation Programme is a five-year, £5 million initiative, which will be driven by the needs of the business community and decision-makers. The Programme will focus on a series of industry challenges and cross-cutting themes which have been developed through individual consultation with oil and gas companies and their supply chain, policymakers, regulators and environmental consultancies, and a series of scoping workshops with the business and academic communities.

Industry challenges

The Innovation Programme will focus on the following sector challenges:

  • Decommissioning. The UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) is one of the world's most mature petroleum provinces with many assets (oil and gas platforms and associated wells, pipelines and other subsea structures) reaching the end of their field lives and likely to require decommissioning over the next 30 years. This task must be conducted in a safe and responsible manner, in one of the harshest maritime environments.

  • Extending the life of mature basins. Mature basins such as the UK's North Sea contain very significant amounts of unrecovered hydrocarbons. Identifying and producing new resources in a cost-effective and environmentally sensitive way is technically challenging. This challenge could include novel approaches to data analysis and interpretation as well as areas such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

  • Exploration in challenging environments. Large oil and gas resources are still present in environments in which exploration, appraisal and production are challenging, and where conventional technologies are inadequate. This challenge also includes the identification and assessment of risks from environmental hazards to offshore infrastructure.

  • Unconventional hydrocarbons. Unconventional oil and gas (eg shale oil and gas resources) is an important part of the energy debate. Environmental science can provide independent evidence and expertise on the feasibility and safety of these resources, and inform industry's efforts to boost its efficiency and manage its environmental impact.

Cross-cutting innovation themes

With respect to the above challenges, the Innovation Programme will focus on the following cross-cutting innovation themes:

  • Innovative environmental monitoring techniques. This theme recognises the need for consistent, cost effective data collection and regulated and agreed monitoring protocols covering techniques and time periods to establish baselines (or proxies for these) and for monitoring of prospective, operational and decommissioned sites.

  • Data management, sharing and collaboration. Aside from the issues of consistent data collection, this theme recognises the need for sharing of data between interested parties and related issues around acquisition, creation, accessibility and management of big data sets. It also recognises that the environment is shared by a wide variety of users, all of whom potentially impact the environment to a greater or lesser extent, and the need to share data and lessons learnt and consider cumulative impact and potential trade-offs.

  • Environmental management. Reducing the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction is a key priority for the sector. Improvements in the scientific understanding and technology used during hydrocarbon resource extraction will result in lower levels of environmental impact and will directly influence UK oil and gas industry regulations.

General Principles

The Innovation Programme will operate according to the following general principles:

  • Industry-led - Industry members of the programme will define the challenges that need to be addressed through innovation projects.
  • Openness - Innovation grants will be awarded in open competition and access to project outcomes will be open to industry members.
  • Translation-focused - Innovation projects must translate existing research into outputs that meet the needs of industry members.
  • Impact driven - This programme will be consistently focused on benefiting society, the economy and the environment.

Innovation scoping workshops

In collaboration with the NERC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, two workshops were held in 2015, bringing together industry, academic and government representatives to identify the biggest challenges facing the oil and gas sector in the UK and the opportunities for NERC-remit science to be translated to address these and inform decision-making. Summary reports from these workshops are below:

NERC Innovation scoping workshop summary report - Decommissioning (PDF, 553KB)

NERC Innovation scoping workshop summary report - Extending the life of mature basins in the UKCS and west of Shetland (PDF, 532KB)

Previous awards

NERC has funded a number of oil and gas innovation pump priming activities to develop partnerships and collaborations between researchers and the oil and gas industry and to explore potential themes and opportunities for the development of the innovation programme.

The initial funding call for the Innovation Programme in Oil and Gas was on decommissioning and its environmental management. Two projects were funded in 2015, with a follow up call and brokerage event in 2016.

Funded awards - October 2016 (PDF, 222KB)

Funded awards - December 2015 (PDF, 87KB)


For further information, or if your company is interested in joining the Innovation Programme in Oil and Gas, please contact:

Sarah Keynes
01793 411541