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Assessing the viability of long-term peat storage for future peatland restoration in a Shetland onshore E&P development

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  • Full or part time
    Dr R Andersen
  • Application Deadline
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Project Description

For many industries, habitat restoration is a legal requirement at the end of the plant’s/site activity lifetime. In Scotland, the North Sea oil and gas industry contributed £35 billion to the UK economy (a little under 1% of GDP) in 2014. However in Scotland as in many parts of the world, the energy sector and particularly the Oil & Gas industry is under increasing pressures to meet climate and environmental targets clearly established in the UK Climate Strategy document produced following the ratification of the Paris agreement earlier in 2016. Peatland restoration offers a potential natural solution for greenhouse gas removal (GGR) as a mitigation strategy for industries like Oil & Gas who struggle to reduce their emissions. However, this will only be a solution if it can prove to be done effectively, which this project will start assessing.

The Shetland Gas Plant (SGP) was constructed as part of the Total E&P UK (TEPUK) operated Laggan-Tormore gas condensate development in a peat-rich area on Shetland. As part of TEPUK’s commitment to site restoration at the end of the plant’s operating life, the peat was extracted and stored on site in purpose-built long-term storage containers. The peat has been capped and is currently being monitored for hydrological and physico-chemical variables.

There are no known precedents of such practices and it is unclear whether the storage and the current management regime at the peat store will make the peat suitable for peatland restoration in the future. From both an ecological and an economic perspective, it is critical to start investigating the potential barriers to future restoration and to identify solutions to address them. In addition, peatland restoration trials were undertaken at the SGP during the construction phase, involving a novel temporary storage-transfer technique. These trials have not been formally assessed in ecological terms.

This studentship will aim to assess the viability of current practices and long-term peat storage for future peatland restoration at the SGP. In particular, the objectives of the project will be to answer three key questions:

1) How do blanket bog functions following peat transfer, relocation and re-vegetation compare with those of a) neighbouring un-impacted blanket bogs and b) other blanket bogs under restoration in Shetland?
2) Can blanket bog vegetation be established readily on peat under current storage conditions?
3) How is the long-term peat storage affecting biological activity and integrity in the peat compared with natural blanket bogs?

The project will combine field measurements across Shetland, focussed experimental design and in situ measurements at the peat store, and controlled experiments in mesocosms.

The project will build on the supervisors’ experiences of peatland restoration on mined sites with the Horticultural Peat Industry and the Canadian Oil Industry, restoration trials at the Dounreay Nuclear Power Plant (Dr Roxane Andersen, UHI), interactions with Shetland Oil Terminal Environment Advisory Group (SOTEAG) (Dr Beth Mouat, UHI) and in-depth knowledge of the SGP itself (Dr Andy Bain, Total E &P). Beyond TEPUK, the project will be the first to assess the viability of long-term peat storage as a mitigation strategy. If it isn’t viable, this will give an advanced warning about the need to find potential alternative strategies including mitigation/adaptation for sites with high peatland cover.

We are looking for students from an applied science, environmental sciences, biology or similar background. Experience with peatlands and field work would be desirable, but training will be available for any techniques used in the PhD. The project will be integrated in the Flow Country Research Hub (national network) and the student will be anticipated to spend a large proportion of their time on Shetland at the NAFC-UHI base.

Informal project specific enquiries can be made to: [email protected]

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.

The studentship covers fees at the Home/EU rate only, plus a stipend at the RCUK level, for a total of 42 months (including writing-up).

Funding is available for students worldwide, however non UK/EU students will be liable for the difference between home/EU and international fees.

Students must be domiciled in the Highlands and Islands transition region during the course of their study to be eligible for funding.

References

Andersen, R, Farrell, C, Graf, M, Muller, F, Calvar, E, Frankard, P, Caporn, S, Anderson, P (2016) An overview of the progress and challenges of peatland restoration in Western Europe. Restoration Ecology. DOI 10.1111/rec.12415.

Nwaishi, F, Petrone, RM, Macrae, ML, Price, JS, Strack, M, Slawson, R, & Andersen, R (2016). Above and below-ground nutrient cycling: criteria for assessing the biogeochemical functioning of a constructed fen. Applied Soil Ecology 98, 177-194.

Nwaishi, F, Petrone, RM, Macrae, ML, Price, JS, Strack, M, Andersen, R (2016). Preliminary assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from a constructed fen on post-mining landscape in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, Alberta, Canada. Ecological Engineering 95: 119-128.

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