THE green light has been given for a world-class geoenergy research site to be established on Ince Marshes, including the drilling of 50 boreholes.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) has approved the British Geological Survey’s (BGS) planning application to site a UK Geoenergy Observatory at Ince Marshes in the north of the county.

The decision will see some 50 boreholes drilled down to 1,200 m around a 12 km2 area, enabling scientists to gain the clearest picture yet of the underground environment.

The boreholes will be installed with some £2.5 million worth of scientific sensors, which will observe in unprecedented detail how the underground system works. The sensors will generate millions of terabytes of data on the chemical, physical and biological properties of the rocks over a 15-year period, providing the nation with the knowledge it needs to unlock new clean, green, low-carbon energy technologies.

The UK’s main funder in environmental science, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), has commissioned the £31 million UK Geoenergy Observatories to keep the UK at the cutting edge of geoscience and energy innovation and to provide the important knowledge needed to move the UK towards a low-carbon economy. The BGS, the UK’s principal provider of impartial geological evidence since 1835, will operate the observatories on behalf of the whole of the UK and the geoscience community.

Prof Mike Stephenson, chief scientist at the BGS, said: "More and more of the solutions to decarbonising our energy supply will need to come from beneath our feet. Ensuring we take forward these solutions in a sustainable way means understanding more about the system. Second by second, minute by minute, day by day, we’ll be measuring the pulse of the Earth in a way that the scientific community simply hasn’t been able to do until now.

"The UK Geoenergy Observatory in Cheshire will be a world first in its ability to observe the underground environment so closely and consistently. What we learn in Cheshire should provide a breakthrough in our understanding of how the whole underground system works."

The study will involve the drilling of 50 boreholes from between 50 and 1,200 m deep across the 12 km2 study area. They will contain a network of 1,800 seismic sensors and five km of fibre-optic cable that can measuring earth tremors 1,000 weaker than you can feel.

Prof Joe Howe, executive director of Thornton Energy Research Institute at the University of Chester’s Thornton Science Park, said: "The Cheshire Science Corridor — with Thornton Science Park at its heart — is rapidly becoming recognised as leading the UK’s clean-growth agenda. Building upon our record for delivering world-leading innovation, our academic expertise and the presence of an industrial cluster demonstrating its commitment to decarbonisation, this exciting initiative will bring the world’s best academics in geoscience and a £20 million investment to Ince Marshes to inform the future of clean energy security for the UK and further afield."