News stories about BGS

A selection of recent news, that includes mentions of the British Geological Survey, reported in online news websites. Click on a heading link to read the full article.

There is no question that there are billions of barrels of oil beneath southern England, but how much could be technically or profitably produced remains extremely uncertain. In 2014, the BGS, under contract from the Department of Energy Climate Change, produced a detailed resource estimate which put the total amount of oil in place at between 2 and 9 billion barrels ("Jurassic shales of the Weald Basin: geology and shale oil and shale gas resource estimation" 2014). The BGS examined all the available data, which is sparse, on formation thickness, burial depth, thermal maturity, total organic content, clay content, porosity and other factors used to produce resource estimates. It was skeptical about how much free oil the basin contained and whether it could be made to flow to the wells. UK Oil and Gas Investments is much more optimistic, and puts the oil originally in place at 158 million barrels per square mile near Gatwick and by extrapolation at 50-100 billion barrels basin wide. But this is based on an analysis of rock samples from a single location which is unlikely to be representative of the entire basin. The company has not yet conducted a flow test to see if the oil can be produced. To firm up the resource estimates, dozens of wells would need to be drilled across the basin area. They would need to be put into production to turn resource estimates into estimates of reserves that are technically and economically recoverable. UK Oil and Gas Investments is entitled to be excited by its core samples, and its share price rose more than 200 percent on the news, from less than 2 pence to more than 4 pence per share (less than 2 cents to 6.7 cents). But rock samples from a single hole do not provide any meaningful information about oil resources (let alone producible reserves) across an area of almost 11,000 square km in southern England. There may well be large volumes of oil and gas trapped beneath southern and northern England and eventually some of it may be produced, if local and political opposition can be overcome. There are no good practical reasons why oil and gas should not be produced in England. But shale oil and gas production in Britain would need to compete for investment with much better understood and probably less costly fields in the United States and elsewhere. With oil prices currently at $50 per barrel, and the world market awash in surplus oil, the Weald is not top of anyone's list of investment locations. The fact this story has received any attention says less about the prospect for oil production than the non-existent understanding of petroleum production among politicians, journalists and the public, and the country's neurosis about the potential for fracking across England's green and pleasant land.

10 April 2015

UK Oil and Gas, a small speculating company, announced this morning that surveys it commissioned from an independent specialist suggest there is a vast reservoir of oil under Horse Hill, an area just north of Gatwick Airport. The boss of UKOG, David Lenigas, told ITV News there could be as much as 80 billion barrels across the Weald – which spans Kent, Sussex and Surrey. If true, this is almost four times the estimates of Britain’s offshore reserves. Mr Lenigas’ company has 20 per cent share of a license to extract oil from 55 square miles in the area and shares in UKOG rocketed more than 350 per cent in the first hour and a half of trade this morning. There had been a lot of anticipation among small investors who follow the stock, teased a little by hints over the past few weeks that there was big news coming. Some people have made an awful lot of money. “If life is like a box of chocolates then investing in UKOG and [Horse Hill] is like finding Wonkers [sic] golden ticket” tweeted one. But for those who have bought in to the stock, what chance of making more money? The survey commissioned by UKOG is ten times more optimistic than the British Geological Survey last year. While UKOG acknowledges only 3-15 per cent of the oil can be extracted from the ground, even this is questioned by analysts. The Weald is, in parts, amongst the most attractive countryside in England and the ‘nodding donkey’ pumps familiar from dusty Texas plains would find a hostile reception. Shares in the company have sunk back from the peaks of the morning but closed the day almost treble their value at the open. Investors seem still to share Mr Lenigas’ optimism that the limestone below is “like a big sponge.” They will hope it’s as easy to squeeze.

9 April 2015

Based on an analysis of samples from a single well drilled near London’s Gatwick airport, UK Oil and Gas Investments estimates there could be 158 million barrels per square mile in the local area. Horse Hill, where the well was drilled, is part of the Weald Basin, which stretches across large parts of the counties of Dorset, Hampshire, West and East Sussex, and Surrey, as well as parts of neighbouring Wiltshire and Kent.

A string of other small fields, containing hundreds of millions of barrels of oil between them, stretch across the Weald Basin and have been discreetly producing for the last 30 years. As of February 2014, 117 exploration, 31 appraisal and 100 development wells had been drilled in the Weald area, and of these, 26 were classified as discoveries or at least indicated the presence of petroleum. Thirteen fields were in production plus a gas well which lights a local rail station, according to the British Geological Survey (BGS). There is no question that there are billions of barrels of oil beneath southern England, but how much could be technically or profitably produced remains extremely uncertain. In 2014, the BGS, under contract from the Department of Energy Climate Change, produced a detailed resource estimate which put the total amount of oil in place at between 2 and 9 billion barrels. The BGS examined all the available data, which is sparse, on formation thickness, burial depth, thermal maturity, total organic content, clay content, porosity and other factors used to produce resource estimates. It was sceptical about how much free oil the basin contained and whether it could be made to flow to the wells.

7 April 2015

They’ve brought traffic to a stand-still, swallowed people’s garden sheds, even uncovered long buried graves. The sinkhole has become a rather familiar sight in the county over recent years. Just this year, a shed in Swanley was consumed as the ground below it literally opened up beneath it. Homes and businesses arond a square in Gravesend had to be evacuated after a gaping hole appeared just last month, while perhaps the best known of them all, was when a 15ft-deep hole suddenly emerged on the central reservation of a busy stretch of the M2 near Faversham this time last year, forcing a partial closure for nine days. So just what are these sinkholes - or in some cases Deneholes (deep. ancient, man-made chalk mines) and how are they being created?

Dr Vanessa Banks is the team leader for shallow geohazards and risks at the British Geological Survey – the leading geoscience research unit in the country. She told KoS that there was scope to see more occurrences of such holes in Kent in the future. “There are a number of issues to be concerned with in the future. High rainfall in Kent could lead to more sinkholes appearing, as water is normally the trigger for them to form,” explains Dr Banks. She said the county was an area which, historically, had a greater number of small chalk mines. These ancient chalk mines - which normally only comprise one shaft, and a single chamber are the Deneholes. Dr Banks said: “In medieval times, chalk would be dug up and used on the fields to get them ready and primed for crop planting. Kent also has a number of historic brickworks which would have made used of mined chalk. Where it was taken from the ground, once the reserves were exhausted, the Deneholes would be capped, usually with organic material like wood.

“This organic matter can, over time, give way, leading to deneholes appearing suddenly. Water, again, can exacerbate this degradation of material and speed the whole process up.” Liquid penetration, it seems, is key to the sinkhole issue. During 2014, a large number of sinkholes appeared, particularly during the early part of the year. Dr Banks and the BGS attributed this to what was described by the Met Office as an ‘exceptional period of winter rainfall’. Between December 2013 and January 2014, the south east witnessed 372.2mm of rain. That was more than any other two month period since 1910. Dr Banks told KoS: “Those storms saw a powerful jet stream weather pushing low pressure across the Atlantic which hit the UK. If we saw more of this weather over Kent, then we would almost certainly see more sinkholes and Deneholes likely to emerge.” According to environmental consultant Alice Roper, based on Sheppey, that could be a problem. Ms Roper said: “Our climate is changing in the UK, and most projections are that we will start to see milder, but wetter weather across the country. This will obviously lead to higher levels of rainfall, which will impact the stability of the ground in places which have lots of chalk. “Sudden bursts of rain can overwhelm the drainage system already, and this is likely to get worse with more of it across the county. In areas which are underlain by chalk, this could lead to water erosion which could make them unstable.”

5 April 2015

The study, by PhD researcher Michaela Musilova and colleagues, appeared in Frontiers in Microbiology, which publishes articles on outstanding discoveries across a wide research spectrum of microbiology. Glaciers and ice sheets cover around 11 per cent of the global surface and are dominated by microbial life. Debris-filled holes on the glacier surface, called ‘cryoconite holes’, are considered ‘hot spots’ for microbial activity in these environments. Glacial micro-organisms are believed to be a significant source of nutrients to downstream subglacial and coastal ecosystems. The microbial recycling of nutrients in these icy ecosystems can therefore have a regional and potentially global impact. Despite their importance, there have been very few molecular studies of the microbes on the vast Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS). It is thought that glacial microbial communities originate from nearby environments, for instance delivered to glacier surfaces by wind. Musilova and colleagues set out to study the effects of microbial cells in snow and windborne debris on the microbial communities on the GrIS. This was also the first time the evolution of these microbial communities was assessed throughout a whole summer season on the GrIS. Musilova performed a variety of experiments for the project, working with researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The project was part of an expedition in Greenland, during which the researchers camped near Leverett Glacier over the entire summer of 2012. The team also collaborated with the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (British Geological Survey) to analyse the organic matter that is delivered to glacier surfaces through snow and wind.

31 March 2015

The aggregated data could save companies millions of pounds by avoiding ancient burial grounds and other archaeologically important sites. Oxford-based start-up Democrata developed a way to predict the risk of such delays by having access to some of the UK’s best big-data analysts and facilities at the Hartree Centre, Cheshire after winning a competition. Traditionally when a big construction project starts, or a major road or railway line is cut though UK’s countryside, there needs to be an archaeological investigation to ensure that historic sites are not destroyed. This often leads to substantial costs for a company and could delay the construction time. Excavation work on the new Crossrail transit line in London for example was halted in March after construction workers stumbled across the graves of some 3,000 skeletons in what is known as the “Bedlam Burial Grounds” dating from the 17th century. Archaeologists are expected to excavate the skeletons by September, after which construction will be able to proceed. Democrata has mapped the whole of the UK using a 3D geovisionary programme originally developed for the British Geological Survey, and added a programme of predictive algorithms to identify where historic artefacts might still be found.

27 March 2015

According to Dr Vanessa Banks, Team Leader Shallow Geohazards and Risks and the British Geological Survey, the ground across Kent is comprised of a layer of sand above a layer of chalk. The layer of sand is thinning to the west, and thicker to the east. Sinkholes can occur for a number of reasons, but the cause of sinkholes in Kent is generally where a thin covering of loose superficial material - sand - covers soluble rock - chalk - beneath. The sandy material will tend to gradually slump into the fissures, slowly creating a sinkhole over time - a process that can be sped up by the presence of water.

Deneholes are caused by man-made structures. In Kent, these are often medieval chalk extraction pits - characteristically comprised of a narrow shaft with a number of chambers radiating from the base. The depth of the features reflects the depth of the underlying chalk bedrock. The shaft width is commonly in the order of 2 or 3 m, widening out into galleries at depth.

24 March 2015

The 5BIO scheme, part of a £60m government Energy Research Accelerator project announced today by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, will allow the UK to develop stronger access to the alternative energy market. The projected global annual market for renewable chemicals could reach £360 billion by 2025, with £12billion in the UK alone. For transport fuels the current global market is £1,000 billion per year and £50 billion a year in the UK*. 5BIO is set up to tackle the ‘grand challenges’ of developing low carbon energy, combatting climate change, and creating new businesses and jobs in the Midlands and new exports for the UK. It will increase Aston University’s research and its industrial collaborations across the low carbon sector and help bring new bioenergy products to market. This will include developing useful low carbon bio-products and fuels developed from renewable organic matter, which can benefit the future of automotive, aerospace, energy and rail manufacturing industries and in-turn help achieve climate change goals. Based at the University’s European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI), the Research Accelerator will stimulate innovation and knowledge transfer between businesses, scientists and chemical engineers across renewable biomass, biorefining, bioenergy, biofuels and bio-products.

The Aston University project is part of the £60m Energy Research Accelerator scheme which will build upon the expertise of six leading midland universities. The project involves the universities of Aston; Birmingham; Nottingham; Leicester; Loughborough and Warwick working with the British Geological Survey and multiple industry partners from across the Midlands region.

23 March 2015

The new map has been digitised and made available online in time for the start of celebrations of the map’s 200th anniversary, beginning with an unveiling of a plaque at Smith’s former residence by Sir David Attenborough1. The map, the first geological map of a nation ever produced, shows the geological strata of England, Wales and part of Scotland. The newly discovered copy is thought to have been one of the first ten produced by William Smith (1769-1839), who went on to produce an estimated 370 hand-coloured copies of the map in his lifetime.

A number of organisations, including the Geological Society, the Natural History Museum, the British Geological Survey and National Museum Wales, are joining together throughout 2015 to celebrate the bicentennial of William Smith’s map through a range of events.

23 March 2015

In the years since it was exhumed, the King's skeleton has given up plenty of secrets -- and research continues to find out more.

Scientists at the British Geological Survey measured the levels of isotopes including oxygen, strontium, nitrogen and carbon in Richard III's remains, revealing clues to what he ate and drank. They spotted a dramatic change in the last few years of his life -- suggesting his dietary habits became markedly richer once he became King. "Obviously, Richard was a nobleman beforehand, and so his diet would be reasonably rich already," explained isotope geochemist Angela Lamb, who led the study. "But once he became king we would expect him to be wining and dining more, banqueting more. "We have the menu from his coronation banquet and it was very elaborate -- lots of wildfowl, including real 'delicacies' such as peacock and swan, and fish -- carp, pike and so on."

22 March 2015