Transparency boosts acceptance

The main lesson learned in the debate surrounding the energy transition is that we cannot phase out all types of energy all at the same time. A key component of the transition to renewable energies is natural gas. And here we mean our own supplies – after all, just under 10 billion m3 of natural gas are produced in Germany every year, which equates to approximately 12 per cent of our needs. And more than half of this is extracted from the Weser-Ems region in northern Germany.  

Raw material extraction in Germany sounds like talk of traditional 20th century industrial technology. However, it actually refers to high-tech projects with very high technical and scientific standards in the areas of research, development, production and supply. The key issues are safety and reliability, efficiency and sustainability. With our more than 280 years of planning and practical engineering experience, we at DMT play a part in these high standards being achieved, for example by developing and realising the key components of risk management.

Online earthquake information system

To give an example, gas extraction brings with it the risk of earthquakes. While this sounds dramatic, it actually relates primarily to so-called microseismic events, in other words the small and minute tremors that can occur during gas extraction. This is because the pressure levels within the layers of rock can be affected by this extraction, causing tensions to build up which are then suddenly released. Events of this kind are mostly harmless and range from barely quantifiable to perceptible, such as a lampshade swinging in a living room. However, damage can also occur, like plaster damage or cracks appearing in building walls. To be able to precisely monitor this, we set up an online monitoring platform based on our Safeguard system, covering an area of close to 10,000 square kilometres – equivalent to just under a quarter of the size of the Netherlands.  

Across this area, we installed a network of 43 highly sensitive measuring stations that record every tremor and provide real-time data on a tremor source’s location, magnitude and propagation speed. Incidentally, these measuring stations are so technically sensitive that a large proportion of the events recorded really are earthquakes – but with their epicentres in Haiti, New Zealand or Indonesia, and with only their minimal end portions being picked up in Oldenburg or Soltau. This comprehensive data collection also results in comprehensive traceability – each and every tremor is logged and analysed. Seismic events are identified automatically on the basis of the data recorded, with the system also being able to distinguish between a passing heavy goods vehicle and an actual earthquake. The Safeguard system only sounds the alarm when set thresholds are surpassed and then notifies analysts and decision makers by text message and email.

The high-tech version of citizens’ information

Incidentally, the whole thing started out as a purely internal warning system. What we now have is an excellent example of professional risk management – scientific monitoring performed by us as an external, experienced and neutral engineering service provider and also a transparent citizens’ information system which is significantly boosting people’s acceptance of natural gas extraction. Everything from the measuring stations to the website has been developed by us and is scalable. Open system connectivity means other systems can be integrated upon request. And our database capacity allows for easy expandability. In all, this is naturally very convenient for the customer, with the system’s immense flexibility and ongoing further development leading to cost reductions.  

Our client is the BVEG, the association that represents companies from Germany’s natural gas, crude oil and geothermal energy industries. These include energy utilities of a variety of sizes – and these see themselves not only as producers, but also as employers and neighbours. This makes sense, considering that the workers and their families tend to live in the direct vicinity. As far as we know, the BVEG is highly satisfied with the performance and reliability of the entire system. And, of course, also with the sense of safety that a scientific ‘alarm system’ of this kind results in.

See what we mean by ‘Engineering Performance’ for yourself: you will find the latest version of the website developed by DMT at Monitoring and the concomitant data analysis are incidentally areas that we specialise in, from geomonitoring to machinery diagnostic analysis and from bridge construction projects to wind turbines. DMT handles monitoring and information wherever readings can be taken – and does so in real time.

Want to know more? Find all of our Engineering Performance stories on this and other exciting topics here.

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