Geologists at the University of Aberdeen in the UK have claimed that North Sea volcanoes that were earlier thought to contain magma could actually hold oil and gas reserves.

Geologists have discovered a 7,000m² swathe of the North Sea area, which was dismissed as a potential area for oil and gas exploration because of so-called ‘phantom’ volcanoes.

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

It was assumed that the area contained the empty remains of old magma chambers, which ruled out the possibility of oil and gas discoveries.

“What we found has completely overturned decades of accepted knowledge.”

Dr Nick Schofield and University of Aberdeen PhD student Ailsa Quirie performed a study with colleagues from Heriot-Watt and the University of Adelaide and concluded that the belief was wrong.

Dr 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 Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) with well data to take a fresh look at the Rattray Volcanic Province.

“What we found has completely overturned decades of accepted knowledge.  Previously, it was believed the area contained old magma chambers – the plumbing systems of three Jurassic-era volcanoes – that effectively ruled out the potential for oil and gas discoveries.”

As part of the study, the team discovered that there had been lava fissures or cracks and the volcanoes never existed at all.

Schofield added: “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.”

Following the study, the prospect of future discoveries in the North Sea area increased.