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University of Chester site to host world class fracking research centre

Anti-frackers say centre will divert 'brightest minds' away renewable technology

Thornton Science Park

The University of Chester’s Thornton Science Park near Ellesmere Port is to become a world class fracking research centre as part of a £31m government project.

The Energy Security and Innovation Observing System, comprising two sub-surface test centres, will analyse results from hundreds of boreholes across Britain as the government tries to reassure residents the controversial gas extraction method hydraulic fracturing, known as ‘fracking’, is safe.

Thornton, gifted from Shell to the University of Chester in 2013, is expected to be the site of the first of the two centres. The second site is still to be agreed.

Run by the British Geological Survey, part of the Natural Environment Research Council, the centres will be a spoke of the Blackpool-based National College for Onshore Oil and Gas announced last month with links to the University of Chester and colleges in Redcar and Cleveland, Glasgow and Portsmouth.

University of Chester’s Thornton-based faculty of Science and Engineering will deliver a number of related undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses as well as specialist masters, MRes and PhD programmes and has recently been awarded funding to construct a multi-million pound Energy Systems Demonstrator to develop cost effective, environmentally responsible sources of energy.

A briefing from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) says Thornton site will be a ‘world-leading facility for research, technology and monitoring of the subsurface which will provide openly available data for academia, industry and regulators’. This will help the UK ‘grow new industries and create jobs through advanced training, knowledge creation and accelerated technology development’.

Thornton hopes to leverage £100m in industry support and co-funding to research the effects of hydraulic fracturing in the UK’s geology.

Both research centres will focus on shallow geothermal energy, shale gas, underground gas storage, coal bed methane, underground coal gasification, underground waste disposal as well as carbon capture and storage.

The BIS briefing said a 2014 report by consultancy giant EY estimated the shale gas and oil supply chain could be worth as much as £33bn between 2016 and 2032, supporting 64,000 jobs.

But environmentalists fear water and air contamination from shale gas extraction and fracking has been linked to earth tremors near Blackpool.

Campaigner Matt Bryan said: “This is a classic example of diverting investment and our brightest minds away from the long-term solution which is renewable energy production. The Chartered Institute of Public Health has stated job creation from the onshore oil and gas industry have been grossly exaggerated. The government’s own report prepared by AMEC has stated job expectations over the next decade of 16-32,000, which is a tenth of the 150,000 long-term jobs which would be created through the renewable industry.”

The Energy Security and Innovation Observing System was announced in Chancellor’s George Osborne’s autumn statement along with a £113m investment in a Cognitive Computing Research Centre at Daresbury, which will enable non-computer specialists to gain insights from big data in order to enhance and design products and services.

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