NERC supports growth with responsible environmental management in energy sector

28 November 2013

NERC is funding research, skills and technologies, aimed at helping the oil and gas sector put environmental science at the heart of responsible management of our planet.

Professor Duncan Wingham, chief executive of NERC, said, "Looking across the sectors that provide growth in the UK's economy, and where a strong understanding of the environment is absolutely essential, it is hard to think of one where the need is higher than in oil and gas. It's vital that NERC contributes to ensuring growth with responsible environmental management for the industry."

One of these initiatives includes an award of £2·8 million to a consortium of institutes led by Heriot-Watt University to host a new Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT).

The centre will focus on creating a highly skilled workforce with expertise that can be used across the wider energy and environment sectors, as well as filling skills gaps in the oil and gas sector. This will equip the industry with the skills needed to reduce the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction.

The consortium includes world-leading institutes in this field, such as Imperial College London, the universities of Aberdeen, Durham, Manchester and Oxford, and the British Geological Survey (BGS).

As well as NERC's £2·8 million investment, the consortium has already committed to invest a further £5·2 million. NERC is expecting to leverage up to four times its investment from overseas universities and institutions, and business.

The centre will support a minimum of sixty students. These students will benefit from being embedded alongside world-class researchers and industry partners in the form of placements, mentoring, facilities and equipment.

The centre will be the first in a suite of new NERC CDTs which will meet identified high-level skills gaps and priority needs. The first intake of students will begin at the CDT in October 2014.

Universities & Science Minister David Willetts said, "Working alongside leading businesses in the oil and gas sector to improve our skills base is vital to the success of the government's industrial strategy. NERC's plans to develop a centre for doctoral training will support the growth of the UK's offshore oil and gas resources and attract further overseas investment, keeping the UK ahead in the global race."

At the same time, NERC has invested £800,000 in projects that will engage the oil and gas sector in developing existing partnerships and building new ones. The projects will help the industry use environmental science to accelerate economic growth while at the same time ensuring responsible environmental management. The thirteen short-term, pilot projects include:

  • Developing a set of best practice guidelines for environmental impact monitoring of shale gas exploitation, led by the University of Bristol;
  • Building a decision-support tool to guide environmental monitoring by the oil and gas industry, led by Heriot-Watt University;
  • Creating a test to check for contamination of drinking water from gas extraction processes, led by the University of Edinburgh;
  • Developing a ranking and screening tool that will estimate enhanced oil recovery using carbon dioxide, led by Durham University .

In a connected initiative, NERC has invested £40,000 in an independent research consortium, which will focus on the issue of shale gas and oil exploitation using fracking methods and its potential risks. ReFINE, which is led by Durham University, was launched at an event in London on 7 November 2013. NERC brings an independent perspective to the consortium, which includes funding from the oil and gas sector.

Further information

NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


1. The centre consists of seven core partners (Heriot-Watt, Imperial College, Aberdeen, Oxford, Durham and Manchester universities and the British Geological Survey) and a further twelve associate partners.

2. Projects included in the £800,000 catalysts scheme:

Project title Principal investigator Investigator NERC ref
Microseismic impact assessment for shale-gas stimulation (MIA) Professor Michael Kendall Bristol NE/L008351/1
Commercial development and application of the Re-Os geochronometer and tracer to petroleum systems Dr David Selby Durham NE/L008343/1
OCTOPUS (Ocean Circulation & Transport for Oil Propagation from Underwater Spills) Dr Ekaterina Popova NOC NE/L008106/1
New industry consortia with novel laboratory facilities that forms a UK national centre of excellence in submarine geohazards research Dr Matthieu Cartigny NOC NE/L008130/1
North Sea Interactive: A decision-support tool to guide environmental monitoring by the oil and gas industry Professor John Roberts Heriot-Watt NE/L008165/1
North Sea Interactive: A decision-support tool to guide environmental monitoring by the oil and gas industry Mr David Long BGS NE/L008181/1
The natural capacity for oil degradation of marine environments: Towards developing DNA-based biosensors for monitoring low-level oil pollution Professor Ursula Witte Aberdeen NE/L00819X/1
Submesoscale currents from buoyant seismic streamers (SCR-BAS) Dr Emily Shuckburgh BAS NE/L008246/1
Hydrocarbon reservoir analytics using high-frequency pressure data Professor Ian Main Edinburgh NE/L008386/1
Applying natural tracer technologies in the environmental monitoring of unconventional gas extraction Dr Stuart Gilfillan Edinburgh NE/L008475/1
Applying natural tracer technologies in the environmental monitoring of unconventional gas extraction Professor Finlay Stuart SUERC / Glasgow NE/L008297/1
CO2-EOR ranking and screening tool Dr Simon Mathias Durham NE/L008076/1
Squeezing the barrel: Knowledge exchange adds value to oilfields in decline Professor Jon Gluyas Durham / BGS NE/L008203/1
Jurassic shale analogue study: From resource to reserve (JARR) Dr Howard Armstrong Durham / Newcastle NE/L008092/1
Transformation of CSEM data for determination of resistivities by seismic data processing methods Professor Anton Ziolkowski Edinburgh NE/L008432/1

3. Heriot-Watt University specialises in science, technology, engineering, modern languages, business and design, with a particular focus on developing solutions to critical global issues, such as climate change and energy.

In The Sunday Times 2013 University Guide:

  • Scottish University of the Year 2012-13 (for the second year running)
  • UK University of the Year 2012-13 for student experience
  • Number 9 in the UK overall

In the National Student Survey 2012:

  • No 1 in Scotland and No 4 in UK (based on responses to all questions from FT degree students)
  • In the Top 10 for graduate employment in the UK (over 94% of graduates are in employment or further study within six months of graduation)

Established in 1821, the university has campuses in Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders, Orkney and Dubai, and is investing £35 million in a new campus in Malaysia.

4. NERC is the largest funder of environmental science in the UK. We invest £330 million in cutting-edge research, training and knowledge transfer in the environmental sciences. Our scientists study and monitor the whole planet, from pole to pole, and from the deep Earth and oceans to the edge of space. We address and respond to critical issues such as environmental hazards, resource security and environmental change. Through collaboration with other science disciplines, with UK business and with policymakers, we make sure our knowledge and skills support sustainable economic growth and public wellbeing - reducing risks to health, infrastructure, supply chains and our changing environment.

Press release: 86/13