Contractors World

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Contractors World - 2014 Vol 4 No 5

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A typical fracking drilling rig in Lower Saxony, Germany Engineers develop an early warning system to make fracking safer

by Dr Andy Sowter

A typical fracking drilling rig in Lower Saxony, Germany Photo: Battenbrook

Dr Andrew SowterDr Andy Sowter is an Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham, with research interests in interferometric synthetic aperture radar (SAR).      He has over 25 years’ experience working with SAR data which includes 13 years in industry, including working for GEC-Marconi and the National Remote Sensing Centre.
   He is the main author of the PUNNET software which is an innovative solution for the derivation of land deformation from stacks of satellite SAR data.

New technology developed by researchers at The University of Nottingham could offer an early warning system to signpost any potential risks to land stability associated with fracking.

Shale gas extraction close to hidden fractures beneath the earth’s surface is associated with an increase in earthquakes. The new surveying software can provide a detailed picture of where these fault lines lie with millimetre accuracy.

The software — dubbed PUNNET GEO — could assist local authorities and operating companies in making a more informed decision about which areas may be suitable for fracking, while offering greater reassurance to the public who may fear damage caused by gas extraction-related ground tremors.

Mapping the landscape

It was recently recognised with a major international award, picking up the overall prize at the Copernicus Masters Earth Monitoring Competition. There are now plans to develop the innovation for the international market through the formation of a new spin-out company.
Dr Andrew Sowter, in the University’s Department of Civil Engineering, has developed the software and is working in collaboration with the University’s GNSS Research Applications Centre of Excellence (GRACE).

Dr Sowter said:

To discover that a small achievement in research has tangible commercial value is really the ultimate accolade in Engineering. Winning the Copernicus Masters has been a huge boost for the PUNNET GEO system and we are now fully committed to unlocking the economic, environmental and social potential of our innovation.


    The new development builds on existing technology that allows engineers to use satellite radar technology to measure points on the landscape over a length of time to assess whether they are moving up (uplifting) or sinking down (subsiding).

Previously, this has relied on using fixed, unchanging objects like buildings that can be accurately re-measured and compared against previous measurements time after time. However, the technique has not been practical for use in the rural landscape meaning that geologists could only get half the picture.




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