Olivia Milton-Thompson

Project: Assessing the risks to contamination of water resources from hydraulic fracturing in the UK

Supervisors: Professors Akbar Javadi and Zoran Kapelan


Hydraulic fracturing in the UK is a controversial topic which is seriously being considered in this country as a new, viable method of extracting a wealth of natural gas from shale rock. To feel confident in applying this technique to an apprehensive population, it is important to consider the science and engineering involved in the process. If the UK develops a shale gas industry we must establish a fully informed risk management strategy to ensure the protection of water resources. 

Analysing risk for individual components in fracking has been considered in the literature, but a risk assessment which considers interactions and cumulative effects over the life cycle of fracking is limited. This research focuses on developing a stage-based risk assessment for hydraulic fracturing. The model consists of individual risks which claim an important role in each individual stage and aims to determine dominant factors and interactions between each stage. In the initial part of the study we defined all potential risks for each stage in hydraulic fracturing: site preparation, drilling and construction, high-pressure fracturing, handling and disposal of waste, site closure and abandonment. The use of an analytic hierarchy process (AHP) classified the risk factors into several levels by affiliation, ‘stages’ being the first criteria level, and a pair-wise comparison method was used to determine the weightings for each level. Where factors are not independent of each other, an analytic network process (ANP) will be used. To incorporate more complex factors such as geological parameters, the use of fuzzy logic such as a fuzzy synthetic evolution approach or fuzzy pattern recognition can be applied, the next step of the project. Once this method has been established, it will be applied to specific case studies to demonstrate and implement its use. By using a variety of case studies, this can guide policy decision makers using this dynamic model to help determine how best to tackle this energy dilemma.


Before attending Exeter, Olivia obtained her BSc from Durham University in Chemistry and her MSc from Cranfield University in Environmental Water Management. A dissertation was undertaken at Durham University in aromatic trifluoromethylation and her MSc thesis at Cranfield focused on the application of barley straw to reduce algal growth in reservoirs.

Before undertaking her MSc, Olivia worked as a laboratory analytical chemist at Huntingdon Life Sciences focusing on analytical methods such as LCMS, GC and HPLC methods and during this time, recognised an interest in water chemistry and water science. A summer placement as a research assistant at the University of Nevada, Reno in the Environmental Chemistry department ensured her interest in hydraulic fracturing and groundwater contamination where Olivia undertook work on inorganic contamination from fracking from the Pennsylvania Wells in the USA.

Keywords: Hydraulic fracturing, risk assessment, AHP/ANP, fuzzy logic, groundwater contamination, water resource contamination.

WISE 2017 Summer School Presentation: Olivia_Milton-Thompson_Jun17[1]

June 2017 Poster: Olivia Milton-Thompson Jun17