Aberdeen University researchers are to investigate potential new oil fields which have lain undiscovered and untapped for more than 40million years.
It is hoped the two-year project, involving a 117sq mile area of sea between Shetland and the Faroe Islands, could be the springboard for a new frontier for oil and gas exploration.
The university’s college of physical sciences has received a grant of more than £600,000 to fund the work, which involves the Faroe-Shetland basin – one of the world’s largest lava fields.
New technology will be used to penetrate the lava in a way the university says has never been tried before.
Geosciences senior lecturer David Jolley said the research could have huge implications for the future of the energy industry.
He added: “Exploiting the previously untapped resources which lie within the Faroe-Shetland basin essentially means the introduction to the industry of an entirely new geographical area for future oil discovery and, therefore, production.
“This would mean a highly significant boost for the industry and in particular the Aberdeen area as the energy capital of Europe.”
The ancient lavas which sit under the sea surface in what was a narrow continental seaway have historically proven to be a serious obstacle to exploration in the Faroe-Shetland basin.
A two-mile thick layer of lava covering the area acts as a seal, trapping sand and mud – the sediment where oil can be found – between and beneath its flows.
Mr Jolley said: “The thickness of the lava means that traditional techniques employed for oil exploration in, for example, the North Sea, simply don’t work.
“We will be introducing cutting-edge technology which will allow mapping of sediments between the lava flows and the identification of oil reservoirs.”
Wells drilled in the basin in 2001 showed the area has a working petroleum system and it is hoped the university’s research will lead to serious exploration of the western part of the basin for the first time.
Mr Jolley said: “We currently know as much about this particular area of the subsea as we did about Brent in the mid-1970s.
“The revolutionary technology we will use may enable this promising region to become an extremely prosperous part of the oil and gas industry in the future.”
The grant for the project came from industry via the Sindri Group, which aims to encourage projects which are of relevance to the future investigation of the Faroese continental shelf.