North Sea volcanoes previously thought to contain magma could actually contain oil and gas reserves, academics have claimed.
Geologists at Aberdeen University revealed last night they have discovered “phantom” volcanoes that cover a “huge swathe” of unexplored North Sea basin.
For decades the 3000 square mile area was believed to contain the remains of three volcanoes that erupted 165 million years ago.
The area, known as the Rattray Volcanic Province, has for years been overlooked by North Sea oil and gas firms.
But Aberdeen academics now claim it could potentially yield an eruption of oil and gas reserves.
Nick Schofield from the university’s School of Geosciences confirmed that “several” large oil and gas operators had expressed interest in the study, adding that it was time to look at the basin with “fresh eyes”.
The new findings raise the possibility of future discoveries in the area, which has been left untouched during 50 years of exploration activity in the North Sea.
Dr Schofield said: “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.
“Below and on top of the Rattray could hold oil and gas reserves, though it’s way too early to tell how much.
“But often the best place to find oil is where you’ve discovered it before.”
The discovery was made during Aberdeen PhD student Ailsa Quirie’s post-graduate research as part of the Carnegie Trust scholarship.
Dr Schofield and Ms Quirie were working with data from the far North Sea, close to the Rosebank field, west of Shetland.
He said the team combined 3D seismic data with methods used to look at other volcanoes elsewhere in the UK Continental Shelf.
Dr Schofield added:”What we found has completely overturned decades of accepted knowledge.
“We think most of the rock is untouched, it’s very exciting. People need to look at the North Sea with fresh eyes after this discovery.
“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.”