Saturday, 24 September 2011

A little about myself

Having welcomed you to my sparkly new blog, I feel I should introduce myself properly. I am a research fellow at the University of Bristol. Given the current vogue in academia for multi-disciplinarity, I suppose I would describe myself as an applied geophysicist-cum-geomechanical engineer. Which, in short, means that I'm interested in rocks. In particular, I'm interested in the mechanical behaviour of rocks - how they deform, break and fracture - and also in how we go about monitoring this behaviour (which is a challenge, given that you're often separated from the rocks you're interested in by a couple of solid kilometers of other rocks).

Given the highly politicised nature of the debate about fracking, I feel I should make some statements about any conflicts of interest. The funding for my research comes from the UK government science research councils (NERC, to be precise). Nevertheless, we work fairly closely with industry - they often give us datasets from past fracking operations for us to look at. We're interested in developing techniques that will allow us better control over where the fractures go, and techniques that will allow us to image then fractures - as are the companies conducting the fracking, so we have a lot of common ground. There are other people in our research group who are funded directly with money from industry, and indeed, several of my ex-colleagues (and an M.Sci student I co-supervised) have gone on to jobs in the shale-gas industry.

But I would not consider myself to be an industry stooge. I suppose I would describe my views as being mildly pro-fracking, but only when done properly. I believe it is possible to frack without damaging the local environment, but only if done responsibly. There are many temptations to cut corners, and I suspect this is what has sometimes happened in the US. Many shale gas wells are pretty marginal economically, so there must be pressure to take short-cuts in monitoring and controlling the frack, and in disposing of the waste materials properly. I'd very much like to avoid that happening in Lancashire.

So, truth be told, my views on fracking are still developing. In particular, while I'd like to think that I know a fair bit (so modest) about the mechanical behaviour of rocks during the fracking process, I don't think I've thought enough about the wider social, political, economic and environmental (both local groundwater, and in terms of climate change) issues of shale gas exploitation. I suppose this blog is a way of addressing that - by forcing myself to write about it I'll force myself to think about it a little more. So I guess I might as well be talking to myself.....

So if seems like I contradict myself, or if appear to change my views on shale gas, then that's because I'm holding contradictory views, or I'm changing my mind. I'm a scientist, and all good scientists reserve the right to change their mind when the prevailing evidence dictates.