A new geological analysis of the Rockall Basin that lies off the Donegal coast could help to fuel a new wave of interest in oil and gas exploration.

The hugely challenging deep waters – which are prone to severe storms – and their remoteness have meant limited exploration to date. Indeed, out of 12 wells drilled in the Rockall Basin, only one has yielded a gas discovery of potential interest.

Now, though, geologists from the University of Aberdeen have made findings that could pave the way for a fresh look at the region.

According to university, the geologists “have gained a clearer understanding of the Rockall Basin and identified potential areas for future exploration activity.”

It reports that those behind the £250,000 study – funded by the UK’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) – believe that “misconceptions” regarding the character of the Basin - as well as challenging weather conditions and a lack of supporting infrastructure due to its remoteness - have hampered exploration efforts.

Dr Nick Schofield, from the University’s Department of Geology and Petroleum Geology who led the analysis, stated: “The Rockall Basin is one of the most challenging environments on Earth when it comes to hydrocarbon exploration, but our analysis has revealed that one of the barriers to success may have been a misunderstanding of the subsurface geology.”

“By analyzing seismic data provided by the OGA and Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS), and using what we have learned through our work in the Faroe-Shetland Basin, we found that the character of areas where operators hoped to find oil may have been misleading,” he added.

He explained that one issue is the previous targeting of so-called ‘bumps’ in the sub-surface, commonly referred to in the industry as a ‘four-way closure’, where it is hoped oil has been trapped.

“In the case of Rockall, these bumps, in many cases, appear to have actually been caused by volcanic intrusions in the sub-surface,” he said. “We believe that the oil and gas is more likely to have migrated to the outer fringes of Rockall instead, away from these previous exploration targets,” he added.

The study has identified the eastern edge of the Basin against the Outer Hebrides Shelf as an area of interest for future exploration activity.

He added: “What we are ultimately working towards is the most detailed geological understanding for Rockall which will be made freely available to industry as part of efforts to maximise economic recovery in the United Kingdom Continental Shelf.

While the study is backed by the UK’s Oil and Gas Authority, it will be of considerable interest to companies that have already explored off the Donegal coast, including Serica Energy which has the licence for a number of blocks in the Irish part of the Rockall Basin.

The Rockall Basin is named after the isolated rocky islet of Rockall, which lies 430km north-west of Donegal – the closest mainland. However, the nearest permanently inhabited place is North Uist, an island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, 370km (230 miles) to the east. Britain still claims Rockall as part of Scotland under the Island or Rockall Act, 1972.

More people have landed on the moon than have stayed on what has been described as the world's most isolated islet.

The rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas reserves around the eroded volcano have led to Ireland, Britain, Iceland and Denmark all staking territorial claims in the past.

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