The professor – Chair of Petroleum Geology at the University of Aberdeen – said: “Whilst there is no doubt that there is oil and gas to be discovered in those stormy waters, it is also fair to say the discoveries have not come in at the same rate as they did in the neighbouring North Sea.
“Some 50 billion barrels have been discovered off the coast of the UK but only four billion of these have been west of Shetland. Estimates of what is yet to be found are modest.
“Why is it that one part of our continental shelf is so prolific while the other has been less so? The answer comes down to two main factors”
“First, west of Shetland is considerably more hostile and remote than the relatively benign waters of the North Sea. Secondly, the geology is more challenging. For these reasons, only about 100 exploration wells have been drilled on the Atlantic Margin compared to 2,300 in the North Sea.
“And the North Sea is a mature province while its westerly neighbour is still very much in its youth. So what does this mean for the future?
“As the UK Government looks to push onshore fracking on to an unwilling public as a means of supplying the country’s gas needs, French giant Total is quietly investing £2.5 billion in a new gas processing plant in Shetland to develop the Laggan and Tormore fields.
“Similarly, BP and partners are investing £4.5bn to develop the eight billion barrels on the Clare Ridge. They clearly see potential in the region. Projects such as this can massively increase the focus on an area, encourage further exploration and release locked-up reserves that were previously uneconomic.
“The geology west of Shetland might be challenging and fraught with uncertainty.
“However, I for one would never underestimate the ingenuity of the explorers and I certainly will not be surprised if major discoveries are made there in the next few years, totally changing the perception of the region and opening up a second major oil boom for Scotland.”
Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, MSP, said: “This is a major intervention from Professor John Howell, one of Scotland’s leading offshore experts, saying there may be major new oil finds West of Shetland, opening up a second oil boom.
“That is extremely encouraging and shows the huge potential which remains for Scotland’s oil and gas sector.”
Meanwhile, Professor Alex Kemp and Linda Stephen, at the Aberdeen Centre for Research in Energy, Economics and Finance, have conducted substantial modelling on the potential long term recovery of oil and gas from the UKCS.
Their latest modelling finds that, with oil prices used for screening long term investments at $90 per barrel in constant real terms, in the period 2014 – 2050 between 14 and 15 billion barrels of oil equivalent can be economically recovered. If targeted tax incentives were introduced the economic recovery to 2050 could increase to 15-16.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent.
But there is potential for further developments after 2050 if other fields can be rendered economically viable.
Professor Kemp and Linda Stephen found that at the year 2050 no less than 125 known existing discoveries remained undeveloped because on current trends they are commercially non-viable. He said:
“With further technological progress and oil prices higher than current levels it can reasonably be expected that many of these fields will become viable before 2050. This should also apply to new discoveries from future exploration. Thus the ultimate potential of 24 billion barrels of oil equivalent foreseen by Oil and Gas UK appears plausible.”