Relocating UKCS cores from Gilmerton (Edinburgh) to the NGR at Keyworth

Statement from Professor Alan J Thorpe, Chief Executive, NERC, 23 June 2010.

'The Natural Environment Research Council is re-affirming the earlier decision to close the BGS core store at Gilmerton and re-locate the collections to the newly extended National Geological Repository at Keyworth.

The relocation of cores will begin in late summer 2010, and is expected to take some 18 months. This decision has attracted attention and it is clearly unpopular with some, but BGS and NERC have a responsibility to ensure they continue to deliver much-needed science and services with maximum efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

The National Geological Repository will be a national and international cutting-edge facility fit for purpose for decades to come. In closing the Gilmerton site, NERC and BGS are also driving greater efficiency and reducing their estates footprint.

Maintaining multiple core store facilities across the UK is not cost-effective and utilising the Keyworth facility will create real operational savings and enable the realisation of a capital asset.

The new facility will future-proof BGS’s capacity to store on behalf of the nation other strategically important collections such as those that may be produced during future investigations into radioactive waste management, and carbon capture and storage in the North Sea and Irish Sea.'


Empty racking awaits the deliveries of core

The BGS manages the National Geological Materials Collection. A key component of this collection are borehole cores from both onshore and offshore (United Kingdom Continental Shelf). These are currently stored at three locations across England and Scotland, but they will be consolidated to one location at the BGS Headquarters at Keyworth.

In 2010 the Keyworth core store was extended to increase its storage capacity. The extended store has the capacity to hold the contents of the Gilmerton and Wallingford stores plus additional capacity for expansion.


The BGS is the custodian, on behalf of BEIS, of core samples and records collected by operators as a requirement of Petroleum Operations Notice 9. These are currently stored at the BGS site in Gilmerton, south Edinburgh. The BGS believes that the most cost-effective optimum way of guaranteeing improved availability and inspection facilities for these collections in the long-term is in a single, world-class facility. This facility will be comparable to other purpose-built national facilities such as in Bremen in Europe and in Calgary in Canada, and will future-proof the BGS’s capacity to store other strategically important core collections such as those that will be produced during the next round of investigations into a geological repository for radioactive waste and carbon capture and storage in the North Sea and Irish Sea.

The BGS’s decision to relocate the offshore cores from Gilmerton, Edinburgh, to Keyworth, Nottinghamshire, was taken following an independent consultant’s review of all BGS information management facilities.

The review concluded that the creation of a single core store for UK collections at Keyworth was the most cost-effective solution, offering operational cost savings, the opportunity to reduce the BGS’s estates and realise a capital asset and a reduced burden on the public purse. Maintaining multiple core store facilities across the UK is simply not cost-effective, and is an unjustifiable use of public funds.

The DECC offshore cores are just one of many resources made available to a wide range of industrial and academic users by the BGS. The consultant’s review looked into where users travel from to use the cores at Gilmerton, and concluded that around three-quarters travel to Gilmerton from outside Scotland. Many oil industry users based in the Aberdeen area (both industry and academia) prefer to use cores stored within commercial repositories in that area.

Business case

A business case for extending the existing core storage facilities at Keyworth was submitted to NERC Council in summer 2009 as part of a major estates renovation investment project by NERC at the Keyworth site. This project is being delivered in line with full and rigorous Prince II management principles, and is operating within budget.

The full costs of the core relocation exercise are budgeted in the total project costs. These project costs have been provided to and scrutinised at length by the National Audit Office, and are available to view.

In rationalising its site BGS and NERC are responding to efficiency drives that emanate from Central Government via the Gershon Review. BGS demonstrated to the NAO that yearly cost savings of c. £200k are expected, and the eventual sale of the NERC-owned Gilmerton site will yield a sum in the region of £2m (this figure is based on an independent market valuation). The running costs for the Keyworth store will indeed be low, since heat energy will be piped free of cost from an adjacent new computer facility resulting in low reduced carbon emissions in the longer term. Further efficiencies will result from economies of scale including the operation of the new store by existing core store staff at Keyworth, and through mechanised handling procedures that have been in place at Keyworth for many years. BGS staff at Keyworth are entirely familiar with servicing the needs of industry and academic users of core, and do so on a regular basis.

Health and safety issues

Health and safety considerations are one of many factors that underpin the decision. Gilmerton is unsuitable for mechanised (fork-lift) handling, and the only way of shifting cores there is by manual handling. In contrast mechanised handling has been standard procedure in the existing Keyworth core store for many years. Cores are lifted on pallets by a Hi-Racker fork-lift and moved to the viewing rooms by conventional fork-lifts. The only manual element is sliding the boxes from the pallet onto the inspection tables, all at waist height.

At Gilmerton the cores are arranged in narrow aisles, from floor to head height. The staff lifting core from the floor level drag it backward into the aisle and then lift it onto a trolley for transfer into the viewing rooms. Staff can lift up to 25 kg by themselves, core boxes over 25 kg require two people to lift them. All core boxes are colour coded to indicate weight. A typical visitor will want between 100 to 200 boxes to look at the rocks in a section of a borehole; this would be typically be between 1 and 3 tonnes of core lifted by hand. The boxes then have to be returned to their storage locations after the visitors leave. The last member of staff to be hurt was on 26 January 2007, when they complained of back pain after moving core boxes. The incident was recorded as a near miss in the Accident Book.

BGS would like to underline the fact that, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, it is required to be proactive in reducing risk, rather than responsive in the event of an incident. We therefore believe that we should be following the best practise in core handling which has been in place at Keyworth for many years. Trades Unions at BGS are, unsurprisingly, highly supportive of this approach.

Core transportation experience

BGS has considerable experience of transporting cores, including friable materials. Examples include the 2009 shipment of several kilometres of very sandy cores from the New Jersey margin to the IODP Bremen repository, managed by the BGS team who work for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.

The precise methodology to be used in preparing the cores for photography and transportation is to be agreed by an independently-chaired group comprising BGS staff, conservation experts, industry representatives, and DECC, which will meet for the first time at Gilmerton in mid-June. The methodology will be published in due course.

Core photography and preparation

BGS has undertaken to create a photographic image collection of the cores, and to make this available free of cost to the user via the BGS website. Commercial users have stated that such an image collection could significantly improve the efficiency of their activities by enabling them to do a substantial part of their work online, from any location with a web connection. The methodology to be used in preparing the cores for photography and transportation is to be agreed by a group comprising BGS staff, conservation experts, industry representatives, and DECC, which will meet at Gilmerton in mid-June. BGS believes this process to be achievable, and the methodology will be scrutinised by experts. BGS is indeed engaging with industry experts on the matter.


The decision to relocate the Gilmerton collections has attracted considerable attention, with much interest in the related costs. The following table presents the estimated costs provided to the National Audit Office (NAO) in March 2010 (published previously on this website), and the revised costs (as of late October 2010) based on actual contract values. The revised costs were presented to the BGS Board at its meeting on 2 December 2010 in Nottingham.

  Previous estimate (published March 2010 on this website and provided to NAO) Revised costs (October 2010) based on actual contract values

Construction of the Keyworth core store extension

£1 900 000 £1 720 000
Photography and bespoke packing of cores £250 000–£350 000 £289 089
Relocation of the cores and paper archives (Gilmerton and Loanhead) £350 000 £278 020
Cost of pallets for transport and storage £350 000 £303 588
Income from Gilmerton site (guarantee from NERC, based on an independent market valuation) -£2 000 000 -£2 000 000
Income from Loanhead (guarantee from NERC) -£500 000 -£500 000
Total net cost
£350 000–£450 000 £90 697

The revised, actual costs for the Gilmerton relocation exercise are substantially less than the estimates made in March 2010. The reasons for the cost reductions are principally the actual costs of the core store extension (£180 000 less than the earlier estimate), and the actual costs of the pallets for transport and storage (£46 412 less than the earlier estimate). The cost of pallets is an essential capital cost for the extension to the core facility, and would have been incurred irrespective of whether or not the Gilmerton cores were relocated to Keyworth.

Commercial quote for core transportation

A £4.2m commercial quote form packing and transportation of the cores has caused much confusion in the context of the costs of the exercise. It should be understood that this quote was requested entirely independently of BGS without any discussion with the BGS over the detailed specification of the works involved, and the quote was provided in good faith by the commercial company.

The suggested commercial methodology is one more applicable to newly-extracted cores, not to cores that have already undergone transportation without any special packing or conservation whatsoever, and then invasively sampled by users. The suggested methodology therefore contains numerous elements that are simply unnecessary. Furthermore it involves removing every single core from its box and packing in bags; this process would undoubtedly damage some of the more delicate cores that the opponents of the move are most concerned about. BGS has commented in detail on the proposed methodology in information provided to the NAO.

Fragility of the cores

As stated above, the methodology to be used in preparing the cores for photography and transportation is to be agreed by a group comprising BGS staff, conservation experts, industry representatives, and DECC, which will meet at Gilmerton in mid-June. It must be borne in mind that many of the Gilmerton cores are already in poor condition, having undergone extensive road transport within the UK with no special protective packing whatsoever, and subsequently invasively sampled by users at Gilmerton. The BGS’s task is to ensure the safe transport of the cores without further deterioration in their condition.

The Gilmerton store

Regrettably the Gilmerton store is not fit-for-purpose. Modern core storage facilities use mechanised handling, palletised storage and high racking for maximum space efficiency and to eliminate manual handling as far as possible. The existing Gilmerton premises are unsuitable for this method of storage because of height restrictions and foundation issues. The floor plan is unsuitable for palletised storage, being ‘T-shaped’ rather than rectangular. In addition, the flooring is unsuitable for the installation of palletised storage and would need to be dug out and the foundations strengthened. The building would need to be demolished and completely rebuilt, with the additional disruption of moving the core twice, into and out of temporary storage. This could lead to some parts of the collections being unavailable to industry for considerable periods of time, an issue that will not be presented by the move to Keyworth.

Responsibility for the cores

The use of the Gilmerton collections reflects the evolution of the oil and gas industry of the North Sea province. Its use by major oil and gas companies has significantly declined over the past ten years, but the collections are still used extensively by smaller oil and gas producers and consultants with the objective of developing smaller oil and gas plays. It will also play a role in the definition of reservoir characteristics for carbon capture and storage offshore in the North Sea. BGS is custodian of the Gilmerton cores and records under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with DTI (now DECC) dated June 2005. This MoU is in the process of being updated.

Gilmerton core sample collection: Keyworth transfer methodology

Gilmerton core sample collection | Keyworth transfer methodology (including trial results) describes the methodology for stabilisation, photography and transportation to be used in the relocation to Keyworth, Nottinghamshire, of the UK Continental Shelf core and cuttings collections currently held at Gilmerton by BGS on behalf of the Department for Energy and Climate Change. The methodology has been developed by BGS in partnership with the specially convened and independently chaired Gilmerton Core Advisory Group comprising representatives from industry (including the Petroleum Group of the Geological Society of London), the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the UK museum conservator community who have particular knowledge and experience in the conservation of ageing collections.

Comments on the details of the methodology were invited between 5 November and 10 December 2010.

The results have been collated and appropriate notes added by the Gilmerton Core Move Advisory Group. For more information download the Feedback Review document. The BGS thanks all those who provided feedback.


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