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Chancellor's Fellow in Energy

Katriona is a world leading academic in experimental subsurface characterisation for energy futures.  Geo-energy applications such as energy storage, hydrogen storage, carbon capture and storage, the development of unconventional hydrocarbons, nuclear waste management, mining and geothermal operations all have an impact on the subsurface. Consequently, advanced understanding of sub-surface containment within natural and engineered systems is vital for the sustainable management of the subsurface and its resources.  There are significant research and technology developments required for sub-surface containment assurance, and my research has an important role to play in managing and mitigating the risks of subsurface geo-energy related operations.


Katriona has developed the unique Applied Geoscience Laboratory to undertake experimental investigations into fluid flow and the coupled thermal, mechanical and chemical processes to advance the understanding of subsurface multiphase and reactive transport flow behaviour of fluids through shales, fracture networks and porous media. Employing cutting edge experiments to provide independent data, benchmarked against numerical models using innovative methods Katriona develops real-world solutions in subsurface containment.  My original research adopts a cross-disciplinary approach to address a variety of environmental engineering problems that tackle the issues of natural resource and energy supply in a responsible and sustainable way.  This has included international collaborations and applications in diverse fields that have given me a wide-ranging and expanding research portfolio within the fields of the geological storage of hydrogen, CCS and unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs including; experimental investigation into the flow and transport properties of supercritical CO2 through fractured caprock under reservoir conditions, the environmental impact of shale gas development, geomechanical facies analysis of CO2 storage sites and unconventional gas reserves, applicability of noble gasses as tracers, risk assessment & expert elicitation.   

Research Interests

Large scale hydrogen storage in porous geological formations

The UK 2008 Climate Change Act and the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) initiated a transition to low carbon energy generation. The 2015 EU RED and 2018 IPCC progress reports suggest that significant further efforts are required to limit climate change and reach the 2020 renewable energy targets. Hydrogen can provide this innovative future pathway to low carbon energy, particularly when combined with renewable energy sources. Hydrogen is produced by water electrolysis during excess renewable energy periods and stored in suitable subsurface geological formations for withdrawal when there is insufficient renewable energy, evening out the discrepancy between renewable energy generation and demand and facilitating further uptake of low carbon renewable electricity generation. using the Applied geoscience laboratory facilities my research aims to address the fundamental research questions associated with large-scale seasonal geological storage of hydrogen.  In particular determining if seasonal subsurface hydrogen storage be efficient, with minimal losses between storage and withdrawal? 


Understanding the long term fate of geologically stored CO2

I designed and built a state of the art CO2 and hydrocarbon multiphase reactive transport flow laboratory capable of recreating in-situ reservoir conditions to investigate the thermal, hydraulic, mechanical and chemical changes occurring in caprocks, wellbores, fractures and reservoir rocks under in-situ reservoir conditions.  The unique experimental capability, methods and techniques significantly contributed to the intellectual understanding of the flow of CO2 and hydrocarbons through wells, fractures and porous media leading to new discoveries, insights and impacts in sub-surface containment.


Water management – for produced and waste water management / remediation technologies

I am currently undertaking research into how the inherent properties of shales influence flowback fluid composition during shale gas extraction and the implications for wastewater management, which has led to writing an EPSRC proposal on assessing water related effects due to shale gas extraction.  I am also exploring the potential to generate fractures in shales using freeze thaw technology to minimise water usage during unconventional hydrocarbon production .


Shale variability and mapping

Shales are heterogeneous sedimentary deposits and I undertake continuing research to map and predict the lithological, chemical and hydraulic variability within shales.


Geomechanical Facies Methodology – for subsurface reservoir characterisation and basin analysis

I developed the Geomechanical Facies Methodology, a predictive site characterisation tool based on the influence of tectonic setting on depositional environment which I have applied to assess global CO2 storage opportunities and shale gas basin potential. I am currently applying it to subsurface hydrogen storage site assessment. 


Mitigation and remediation of sub-surface leakage

I undertake extensive research into potential leakage routes and assessment of existing and state of the art remediation techniques that are most suitable and effective for each geo-energy setting. Leakage control is a vital consideration in sub-surface containment assurance. 


Mechanical behaviour prediction

Experimental analysis I have undertaken reveals a distinct link between porosity and rock mechanical strength and I continue to develop the experimental database to increase the applicability of the results.  Porosity is an ideal basis for the geo-mechanical prediction parameter as it is readily available from wireline log data and with pertinent upscaling could be used to generate continuous elastic moduli and strength profiles of the subsurface.  These mechanical profiles have numerous applications, not east sanding prediction and stress sensitive modelling inputs for managing the mechanical failure risks of subsurface geo-energy related operations.


Risk assessment of engineered systems

I established an Expert Elicitation Methodology to identify, assess and rank subsurface CO2 leakage risks and I am currently building an open access online Features, Events and Processes (FEP) database for the assessment of the risks involved with shale gas exploitation.  


Expert Elicitation

Expert elicitation is a useful approach to synthesis expert knowledge, experience and insight when the input data and analysis is limited.  During the early stages of the EU FP7 MUSTANG pilot CO2 injection experiment at Heletz, Israel there was very little input data available, yet decisions had to be made regarding data collection, drilling, operation and monitoring strategies.  An expert elicitation study was undertaken to identify, assess and rank potential CO2 leakage scenarios at Heletz to provide guidance to support the decision making processes. My continuing use of expert elicitation highlights its advantages and limitations and I continue to provide suggestions on ways to overcome these limitations. My findings show that prudent expert elicitation can make a valuable contribution to decision making, however if done improperly it can equally lead to invalid or misleading results and wrong decisions. 

Research Groups

EU H2020 project FracRisk reducing the environmental impact of shale gas

Dvelopments in emissions mitigation through geological storage of CO2 and energy security through unconventional hydrocarbon resources have instigated an increasing interest in the detailed understanding of the extent and properties of shales.  Building on my current work with CO2 storage caprocks and low permeability materials and my training as a reservoir geologist I am developing the reservoir modelling methodology used in the hydrocarbon industry, adapting and modifying it to determine the extent, distribution and properties of shales using geomechanical facies modelling to predict the distribution of shales and their potential contaminants.  I am undertaking experimental investigations into understanding how the inherent properties of shale controlled by tectonics and depositional environment such as mineralogy, kerogen type, thermal maturity and formation fluids influence the anions, cations, metals, NORMS, CO2 and hydrocarbon elements of the flowback and production fluids generated during fracturing operations.  The research and innovation I undertake will contribute to developing worldwide secure, clean and efficient low carbon energy and provide a combination of state of the art risk management tools and academic understanding.


ICCR GeoMeChem project Multi-scale experimental investigation of carbonate diagenetic alteration as a result of hydrocarbon production and salt water flooding under reservoir conditions

Experimental investigations into the geo-mechanical controlling factors and geo-chemical effects impacting fluid flow and channelling will improve understanding and predictive modelling capability of key chemical controls on solution and precipitation during mixing between injection and formation fluids during production of carbonate reservoirs.  Novel experiments will provide unique insight into hydrocarbon production in carbonates through multi-scale experimental research and numerical modelling of the flow and coupled process behaviour.


Predicting the mechanical behaviour of reservoir sandstones from porosity

The integrated characterisation of geological, petrophysical and mechanical properties of North Sea reservoir rock undertaken during my PhD revealed an empirical geomechanical relationship between mechanical properties and porosity and I continue to develop this methodology.


GREAT (GeoReservoir Experimental Analogue Technology)  

The aim of GREAT is to construct unique experimental equipment, capable of recreating the conditions of anisotropic stress, fluid pressure, fluid chemistry and temperature in large scale samples (20 cm diameter) containing fracture networks and matrix, mimicking in-situ geo-reservoir conditions at up to 3 km depth.  


EU FP7 PANACEA project 

Understanding the long term fate of geologically stored CO2.  using a unique state of the art CO2 and hydrocarbon multiphase and reactive transport flow laboratory capable of recreating in-situ reservoir conditions to investigate the thermal, hydraulic, mechanical and chemical changes occurring in caprocks, fractures and reservoir rocks under in-situ reservoir conditions.  The unique experimental capability, methods and techniques significantly contributed to the intellectual understanding of the flow of CO2 and hydrocarbons through fractured caprock and porous media leading to new discoveries, insights and impacts in sub-surface containment.


Lecturer: Designed and delivered lecture series: “CCS through experimental work” for the MSc in Carbon Storage and Monitoring Edinburgh University.

Lecturing: Delivered lectures and practical sessions in Hydrogeology 1 to 3rd year students, Edinburgh University from 2013 onwards.

Lecturer: Designed and delivered “Introduction to Terrastation” a log analysis course to the MEng in Petroleum Engineering and MSc in Reservoir Evaluation and Management degree students at Heriot Watt University, for 4 years between 1996 – 1999.

Research students

Current PhD students (co-supervisor):

Megan O’Donnell, 2015 - present. Thesis: Water quality associated with hydraulic fracturing. 

Florent Brondolo 2015 - present.  Thesis: Experimental investigation of coupled carbonate rock physics and geochemistry during hydrocarbon production. I co-wrote the thesis description and was instrumental in student selection process.


Graduated PhD students (co-supervisor):

Rachel Kilgallon, Graduated July 2016. Thesis: Investigate how noble gases could be used as effective early warning tracers of CO2 migration in engineered CO2 storage sites.

Caire McCraw, Grdauated October 2016. Thesis: CO2 caprock interaction: Experimental investigation and simulation.


PhD experimental support:

Kit Carruthers, 2011 - present. Thesis: Environmental aspects of CO2-enriched produced waters from UK North Sea geological storage.


MSc / BSc dissertation supervisor: 

Sofi Hinchliffe, 2013.  BSc. Thesis: Cyclic flow behaviour during CO2 injection and sequestration.

Matt Dumont, 2011.  BSc. Thesis: CO2 Sequestration: Mapping the replacement of water by scCO2.

Jareth Flood, 2011.  BSc. Thesis: Mapping of caprock variations within the East Brae Field.

Kit Carruthers, 2010.  MSc. Thesis: Using batch experiments to quantify the potential of North Sea saline aquifers to leach contaminants upon injection of CO2.


Primary school curriculum support:  2010 – present.  I teach part of the curriculum for excellence – Science – Earth Materials to the Primary 6 students at the Edinburgh Academy junior school.

Administrative Roles

Assistant coordinator role alongside PI Chris McDermott who is the project coordinator of the successful FracRisk EU H2020 bid.  This involves 13 partners from 7 EU countries with 5 international companies as advisors. I undertake significant aspects of the project coordination including overall project, financial and legal management and submission of all deliverables and milestones through the EU portal with the aim of achieving all deliverables within time, cost and resource constraints. 


Actively involved in a number of committees within the School including:

  • The health and safety committee (H&S);
  • Lab safety working group chair, aiming to streamline the risk assessment procedure within the school;
  • The equality and diversity committee (E&D);
  • Member of the Athena Swan silver award self-assessment team. 
  • The research training and development committee (RTD)
  • Research staff organisation (RSO), where I take a leading role in ensuring fair working practises for research staff.

Education/Academic qualification

Academic Practise, Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice , Moray House School of Education and Sport

Award Date: 29 Nov 2017

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), A New Methodology for Predicting the Geomechanical Properties of Clastic Reservoir Rocks, Heriot-Watt University

Award Date: 1 Jan 2001

Master in Science, Two-Phase Fluid Flow Modelling of Incised Valley Fill Deposits, Heriot-Watt University

Award Date: 1 Jan 1994

Bachelor of Science, Statistical Analysis of Permeability Distribution in Aeolian Sediments, University of Aberdeen

Award Date: 1 Jan 1993


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