OR/17/048 Introduction

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Fellgett, M W, Kingdon, A, Williams, J D O, and Gent, C M A. 2017. State of stress across UK regions. British Geological Survey Internal Report, OR/17/048.

It has long been recognised that detailed knowledge of the in-situ stress field is crucial to the safe and sustainable use of the subsurface. The in-situ stress field is a key constraint for a variety of activities including civil engineering, radioactive waste disposal, mining, unconventional hydrocarbon exploration and fault stability (Nirex, 1997[1]; Zoback et al., 2003[2]; Tingay et al., 2005[3]; Williams et al., 2016[4]).

Despite this there is a lack of stress magnitude data at depth across the UK leading to uncertainty in stress magnitudes. The World Stress Map (WSM) 2016 release (Heidbach et al., 2016[5]) lists 125 records of variable quality for stress field characterisation across the UK landmass, which include: borehole breakout studies, hydraulic fracture measurements, overcoring and focal plane mechanism studies.

Several studies have examined aspects of the stress field across the UK onshore and UK continental shelf areas (Baptie, 2010[6]; Williams et al., 2015[7]; 2016[4]; Holford et al., 2016[8]; Kingdon et al., 2016[9]). Kingdon et al. (2016)[9] characterised the orientation of the UK stress field based upon borehole breakout data largely from within the Carboniferous Pennine Coal Measures. The authors found the orientation of SHMax to be 150.9 degrees or NW–SE.

Little information exists in the public domain regarding the magnitude of the principle stresses across the UK. A few notable exceptions to this include work on the Cretaceous Captain Sandstone Member of the North Sea |Inner Moray Firth Basin (Williams et al., 2016[4]) and the work undertaken during the assessment for radioactive waste disposal at Sellafield, Cumbria NW England (Nirex, 1997[1]).

This report details the collection of the limited information in the public domain to characterise the in-situ stress from a variety of sources, before providing geographic summaries of the stress field.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Nirex. 1997. Sellafield Geological and Hydrogeological Investigations: Assessment of In-situ Stress Field at Sellafield. Nirex Report S/97/003.
  2. Zoback, M D, Barton, C A, Brudy, M, Castillo, D A, Finkbeiner, B R, Grollimund, B R, Moos, D B, Peska, P, Ward, C D, and Wiprut, D J. 2003. Determination of stress orientation and magnitude in deep wells. International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences., 40, 1049–1076.
  3. Tingay, M, Muller, B, Reinecker, J, Heidbach, O, Wenzel, F, and Fleckenstein, P. 2005. Understanding tectonic stress in the oil patch: The World Stress Map Project. The Leading Edge, 24 (12), 1276–1282.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Williams, J D O, Fellgett, M W, and Quinn, M F. 2016. Carbon dioxide storage in the Captain Sandstone aquifer: determination of in situ stresses and fault-stability analysis. Petroleum Geoscience, 22, 211–222. DOI: 10.1144/petgeo2016-036
  5. Heidbach, O, Rajabi, M, Reiter, K, Ziegler, M, and WSM Team (2016). World Stress Map Database Release 2016. GFZ Data Services. http://doi.org/10.5880/WSM.2016.001
  6. Baptie, B. 2010. Seismogenesis and state of stress in the UK. Tectonophysics, 482 (1–4). 150–159. 10.1016/j.tecto.2009.10.006
  7. Williams, J D O, Fellgett, M W, Kingdon, A, and Williamson, P J. 2015. In-situ stress orientations in the UK Southern North Sea: Regional trends, deviations and detachment of the post- Zechstein stress field. Marine and Petroleum Geology. 67. 769–784. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2015.06.008
  8. Holford, S P, Tassone, D R, Stoker, M S, and Hillis, R R. 2016. Contemporary stress orientations in the Faroe-Shetland region. Journal of the Geological Society, 173, 142–152.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kingdon, A, Fellgett, M W, and Williams, J D O.2016. Use of borehole imaging to improve understanding of the in-situ stress orientation of Central and Northern England and its implications for unconventional hydrocarbon resources. Marine and Petroleum Geology, 73, 1–20. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2016.02.012