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The Permian Whitehill Formation (Karoo Basin, South Africa); deciphering the complexity and potential of an unconventional gas resource

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  • Full or part time
    Prof A Gotz
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project description

A detailed sedimentological and structural analysis using outcrop analogues and core material is proposed to interpret the shale gas potential of a complex basin setting affected by tectonics and dolerite intrusions. As a case study, the project addresses the Permian Whitehill Formation, the main target formation for future shale gas production in the South African Karoo Basin.
A study on world shale reserves conducted by the Energy Information Agency (EIA) in 2013 concluded that there could be as much as 390 Tcf recoverable reserves of shale gas in the southern and southwestern parts of the Karoo Basin. This would make it the 8th-largest shale gas resource in the world. However, the true extent and commercial viability is still unknown, due to the lack of exploration drilling and modern 3D seismic.
New core material from deep boreholes recently drilled in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa will be studied:
1. to determine the original source potential for shale gas by investigating the sedimentary environments in which the potential source rocks formed, addressing the research question of how much sedimentary organic matter the shales contained when they originally formed
2. to determine the likely current potential for retention of shale gas by investigating the structural and thermal history of the basin, addressing the research questions of whether the deep burial and structural disturbance, tilting, cleavages and faulting of shale layers and the associated thermal disturbance by the Cape Orogenesis has positively or negatively affected the shale gas potential of the basin and whether the raised heat flow in the basin through the later infusion of Karoo dolerite magmas has also affected its shale gas potential.
Additionally, outcrop analogue studies will contribute to the interpretation of the core data.

CDT Research theme
Effective production of unconventional hydrocarbons
An improved understanding of the Whitehill Formation (and similar shale gas resources) will inform on future exploration strategies and effective production of shale gas in complex Karoo-aged basins of the southern hemisphere.
Research context
Two current postgrad projects (PhD/MSc) within the research group address 1) sedimentology and 2) palynology of Permian black shales in the northern Karoo Basin. This project is the natural research extension of these two projects and the projects provide a strong grounding for it.
Career routes
The PhD student’s research will have a direct impact on the development of South Africa’s future energy mix including unconventional resources. Furthermore, the data gained from the South African Karoo Basin will serve to estimate the shale gas potential of other complex Karoo-aged basins in Sub-Saharan Africa. The candidate thus can become a leading exploration geologist in unconventional hydrocarbons for the entire Sub-Saharan region.
Training & Skills
As part of a CDT cohort, you will receive 20 weeks bespoke, residential training of broad relevance to the oil and gas industry: 10 weeks in Year 1 and 5 weeks each in Years 2 and 3. Instructors will be both from expert academics from across the CDT and also experienced oil and gas industry professionals. You will be expected to present posters and talks at national and international conferences.

Funding Notes

Funding support is provided as follows;
4 years’ funding for tuition fees and stipend.
Stipend at Research council rates (£14,057 per annum).
Research Training Support Grant.

Eligibility Criteria
NERC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT)
Available to UK citizens and to citizens of the EU who have been permanently in residence in the UK for a minimum of 3 years prior to taking up the studentship. - This project is one of four being offered for September 2016, of which two will be funded.


Qualifications, Experience and Skills
2:1 or better BSc in Geology/Geoscience subject with good grounding in sedimentology and sequence stratigraphy.
Fieldwork skills and reasonable aptitude with IT and numerical data analysis.

Attitude and Personality - Essential


The ability to work both independently and as part of a team

Natural inquisitiveness and a flair for problem solving

Ability to plan fieldwork

Related Subjects

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