‘Phantom’ volcanoes could hide more North Sea oil and gas

Illustration; Source: University of Aberdeen

The study by the University of Aberdeen has raised the prospect of new oil and gas finds in the North Sea following a study on ‘phantom’ volcanoes.

The University of Aberdeen said on Tuesday that geologists from the University discovered that a huge strip of the North Sea was left unexplored for oil and gas due to so-called ‘phantom’ volcanoes they proved don’t exist.

The 7,000 square-kilometer area, known as the Rattray Volcanic Province, was previously thought to contain the remains of three volcanoes that erupted 165 million years ago.

During that time the North Sea tried to create an ocean between itself and Europe – a rifting episode geologists have described as a failed ‘Jurassic Brexit’ attempt.

For decades it was assumed that the area contained empty remains of old magma chambers, ruling out the possibility of oil and gas discoveries.

However, a study led by Nick Schofield and Ailsa Quirie from the University’s School of Geosciences, with colleagues from Heriot-Watt and the University of Adelaide overturned this view.

Schofield said: “Building on methods we have used to look at prospectivity in volcanics elsewhere in the UKCS, we combined 3D seismic data donated to us by PGS with well data to take a fresh look at the Rattray Volcanic Province.

“What we found has completely overturned decades of accepted knowledge. […] our study has shown these volcanoes never existed at all, and that the fireworks preceding the North Sea’s attempt to create an ocean with Europe came via a series of lava fissures.

“Essentially this gives us back a huge amount of gross rock volume that we never knew existed, in one of the world’s most prolific regions for oil and gas production.”

The University stated that the study’s findings raised the prospect of future discoveries in the area, which was left untouched over 50 years of exploration activity in the North Sea.

Schofield added: “There is a huge area under there that hasn’t been looked at in detail for a long time, because of the previously incorrect geological model.

“That’s not to say that exploration wouldn’t be challenging, but technology is constantly improving, and there are still big discoveries being made in the North Sea, as we’ve recently seen in the Central Graben and Viking Graben areas. As the old saying goes, often the best places to look for oil are in places near to where you’ve already found it, and the North Sea is a prime example of that.”

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