Feasibility Report of a Deep Geothermal Single Well, Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre

Report of study which examined the technical, logistical, contractual and economic feasibility of installing a deep geothermal single well system at the new site of the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre.

Public Perception and Community Engagement

In Scotland, there is significant public concern about potential deep subsurface developments such as shale gas, coal bed methane or the capture and storage of carbon underground. There are clearly contentious aspects to these types of developments such as hydraulic stimulation, fracking and contamination risks but it is also the case that the lack of knowledge and technical understanding of the deep subsurface on-shore in Scotland leads to an irrational fear and misconception of the "alien subsurface". This section considers the issue of public perception of deep geology and discusses the potential ways to improve knowledge and acceptance. It also considers how low risk deep geothermal developments such as the AECC DGSW could provide an opportunity to assist in improving public perception of deep geological projects.

The interpretation of the subsurface is a challenging subject for geologists and engineers who review and analyse technical information to develop deep ground models in 2 or 3 dimensions. Without training or specialist knowledge in geoscience it can be difficult to answer questions such as "what does the subsurface look like?" or "what is actually present beneath our feet?" On-going research at Plymouth University is asking these sorts of questions to members of the public without a geoscience background to understand the psychological response to the subsurface and current perception of what the subsurface is. The recent findings are interesting, with responses including the drawing of irregular nonsensical shapes and lines and the use of words such as "dirt" and "dark". The responses point to an emotive rather than an informed understanding, which suggest that the perception of the subsurface is irrational, rather than from an informed perspective. Therefore, there is an argument that better public understanding through education and engagement is needed to facilitate the development of a more rational viewpoint.

Low Risk Technology

Since January 2015 there has been a Moratorium on the consideration of potential unconventional gas projects in Scotland. The Moratorium is to allow further research to be carried out into the potential health and safety impacts of shale gas development. Going forward, we consider that it would be prudent that deep geothermal projects in Scotland should be of a very low technical, environmental and commercial risk. To build trust and community acceptance, we believe that any projects should avoid the requirement for potentially contentious fracking or hydraulic stimulation to create deep permeability pathways in order to operate. The DGSW technology does not require any form of hydraulic stimulation or fracking or use any chemicals to enhance the performance of the rock.

Effective Communication and Community Benefits

Effective and educational community engagement is vital to ensure that all members of the public understand how a proposed technology will work. Any engagement programme also needs to categorically alleviate any concerns regarding the potential risks that may be associated with that technology. In August 2015, Geothermal Engineering Ltd and Arup undertook community events in Cheshire East to discuss the proposed DGSW technology and its installation at the Manchester Metropolitan University Campus in Crewe. The community events were extremely successful, key questions from the public included "does this require fracking?" and "do you use chemicals?" which again highlights the public's emotive fear of the subsurface. The ability to answer questions clearly and state that the technology requires no fracking, hydraulic stimulation or use of chemicals left the public with a positive perception of the technology and helped remove the underlying fears and misconceptions.

The proposal for this project is to provide heat to the on site Anaerobic digestion plant and sustainable low carbon heating for residential dwellings in close proximity to the AD plant via a low temperature geothermal heat network. This is a strong community benefit and will enable us to engage the local community in the discussion about deep geothermal drilling and heat supply.

Public Interaction with the Sub-Surface

We believe that any feasibility study for a deep geothermal project needs to consider the available opportunities to engage, inform and educate the public on the subsurface when the technology is installed and operational. The AECC development offers a great opportunity to create a public exhibition of the technology using a wide variety of media. Discussions with Iain Stewart, Professor of Geoscience Communication at Plymouth University, identified that possible methods of education and engagement should include media that challenges the public to consider the subsurface and engage with it. This needs to go beyond posters and diagrams and should be interactive to make the public feel like they have been transported deep below ground. For instance, the recording of noises from within the borehole using geophones and displaying tele-viewer video is considered to offer an opportunity to display the sights and sounds of the subsurface in a novel way that challenges current public perceptions and confronts people with the reality of what is actually below ground. An active example of this is an art exhibition in Germany, which plays the sounds from the base of the 9km deep Windischesschenbach borehole. This aims to challenge the perceptions of the deep underground and, in the opinion of the artist Lotte Geeven, acts as an "engine for new thoughts and ideas". An exhibition could also include cores from the borehole at a range of depths so that people can touch and feel the deep earth and obtain a tangible appreciation of what deep geology looks and feels like.

Deep Geothermal Exhibition and Community Outreach

As an exhibition and conference centre, the AECC lends itself very well to this type of working demonstration and provides an opportunity for a 'Deep Geothermal Energy Exhibition'. The exhibition would engage the public and be very accessible to school children/university students who could interact and engage with the technology. Further, project partners St Andrews University operate the GEOBUS outreach program that takes geology education to high schools in the Fife area where geology is not a subject on the curriculum and aims to provide an educational catalyst to an interest in the geosciences. A 'Deep Geothermal Energy Exhibition' could work with the GEOBUS outreach program to bring school children to the exhibition so that they could embrace and experience the technology and become inspired to question what the subsurface is. We consider that this offers possibly the greatest and widest opportunity for community engagement of any geothermal development in Scotland, as the number of people that could visit and be educated by the DGSW exhibition at the AECC would be in the thousands.

The showcase venue at the AECC also offers the potential to demonstrate the technology to the Aberdeen Oil and Gas Industry through the major offshore oil and gas conferences that will take place at the venue from 2017. The creation of a 'Deep Geothermal Energy Exhibition' will enable the potential synergies, crossover potential and Scottish supply chain development opportunity discussed later in this report to be showcased in the most attractive way possible.

Community Engagement Plan

As part of the implementation phase of the project we would conduct a full Public Consultation and Engagement exercise. We recently ran a very successful campaign for a very similar project at a site in Crewe, near Manchester. Part of this process included a full day of public consultation that was well attended (Figure 20). Despite the project being situated in an urban area, the local residents were 100% in favour of the project. One of the primary concerns (a full list of concerns is included in Table 4) expressed during the consultation was whether the project would involve any 'fracking'. We believe that for a project to achieve planning permission and public acceptance it is very important to be able to categorically state that no 'fracking', 'hydroshearing' or 'stimulation' (either mechanical or chemical) will occur during the project. Public acceptance of deep geothermal technology will hinge on how well the first projects are developed. We strongly believe that the first deep geothermal projects in Scotland should not involve any form of stimulation or any injection of water into rock under pressure. We have already seen what happened to the shale gas industry in England after one well was drilled and stimulated and we cannot afford to set the deep geothermal industry back many years by making the same mistakes.

Figure 20: Public engagement at the Crewe site

Figure 20 Public engagement at the Crewe site

Figure 20 Public engagement at the Crewe site

Table 4: Principal concerns expressed by residents during the public engagement exercise

Principal concerns Responses
Duration of the drilling project The duration of the project was described as being a maximum of seven weeks, including two periods of drilling lasting about 4-5 days and 10-12 days respectively. All attendees considered the short-term duration of the project to be acceptable, and were generally positive about it being undertaken over the winter period (late November 2015 - mid January 2016).
Residual plant and equipment (specifically visual impact and noise); Concern was expressed over the likelihood of drilling equipment being a permanent feature of the project, and the potential for noise impacts arising from the operational (post-drilling) period. It was explained that the tallest structure (the drilling rig, at up to 26m height) would only be present on site for a short duration (approx. 3-4 weeks in total), and that following its removal the well-head plant would consist of two pipes and associated valves of maximum 1.5m height. The noise levels likely to be encountered during the operational period were described as a low frequency hum generated by the valve and monitoring equipment that would be inaudible at a distance of around 2m. All attendees were reassured by the minimal long-term impacts of the proposals, and expressed a generally positive view of the project.
Relationship to hydraulic fracturing (Fracking); A few attendees mentioned concerns over the use of hydraulic fracturing, especially for gas or oil production. It was stressed that there is no intention to explore or exploit hydrocarbon resources since the whole purpose of the venture is to test low-carbon energy viability. It was further explained that the underlying geology and design of the well-bore are not conducive to hydrocarbon production, irrespective of the use of hydraulic fracturing.
Drilling noise; Some residents expressed concerns over noise impacts associated with the drilling process. It was explained that day-time noise levels from the site would be lower than existing ambient noise levels, resulting in no adverse effect. The need to undertake 24-hour drilling activities was explained in terms of borehole stability and adverse effects of intermittent starting of the drilling process. It was accepted by all attendees that 24-hour drilling would be necessary. Night-time noise levels were described as a continuous hum, similar to a diesel generator fitted with noise attenuation measures, such as those used in most road works. Since the drilling would be undertaken during the winter months, it was explained that closed windows would reduce external noise levels by between 10 -30 dB. It was also explained that under calm weather conditions residents would be aware of a background noise, however this would be unlikely to be intrusive and would operate for relatively short durations. No attendees maintained objections to the anticipated noise levels, while some expressed the view that this would be a negligible impact that would be outweighed by the benefits of the proposal.
Safety. Concern was expressed over the potential for blow-outs or explosion associated with drilling. It was explained that the geological data indicates that the presence of pockets of gas is extremely unlikely. This has been confirmed by a Preliminary Risk Assessment for ground contamination undertaken as part of the project (accompanying document to the planning application). The drilling process also includes a blow-out prevention device which triggers an immediate shut-down of the drill in the event of pressures inside the borehole reaching a specific threshold.


Email: Johann MacDougall

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