Leading Geologist says Firth of Clyde has ‘fantastic’ potential for oil


  By Martin Kelly
One of Scotland’s most respected academics has said that seabed around the Firth of Clyde could hold oil reserves that have “fantastic reservoir potential.”
Professor John Howell of the University of Aberdeen has said the rock formation in the area is compatible with the types of structures in which oil and gas is often found.

Professor Howell’s new analysis – published in the Press & Journal and energy website Energy Voice today – sets out the three criteria to produce an oil reservoir – organic rich source rock to generate oil and gas, reservoir rock – a porous later that can hold the oil and gas, and the correct structure to hold the hydrocarbons – and concludes that the Clyde basin meets all three criteria.

The academic has based his analysis on the seismic data from the 1980s which was previously thought to have been lost, but which he has now studied – and confirms that “there is a large structure there that would be a good target for exploration”.  He also states that “there is certainly potential for oil and gas in the Clyde.”

The analysis by the academic follows research carried out by a local MSP who has discovered that oil exploration work was halted in the 80s by the Ministry of Defence because of fears it would hamper the movement of nuclear submarines.

Exploration work carried out by BP were said to be looking promising. George Younger, the then Scottish Secretary of State, in a letter to The Times newspaper in 1983, stated, “The oil companies are playing their cards pretty close to their chests, but they are expecting something exploitable (in the Firth of Clyde area)”.

SNP Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing, and SNP MSP Chic Brodie, have both welcomed the new analysis. 

Commenting, SNP Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said:

“When a leading Petroleum Geologist sets out his analysis that there is ‘certainly potential for oil and gas in the Clyde’, it’s time for everyone to take notice.

“It is particularly interesting that John Howell’s analysis shows that the Clyde not only has all the elements necessary for a successful oil find, but that he has located the seismic data from the original tests in the 1980s, that confirms that there are good targets for exploration.  We had previously understood that that test data was no longer available so this is a very interesting development.

“As recently announced, in collaboration with industry and academia, the Scottish Government aims to examine the potential for oil and gas discoveries in underexplored offshore areas to the west of Scotland. These maritime areas include the Firth of Clyde,

“As Professor Howell has set out the exploration ban put in place by the MoD has stopped exploration in the Firth of Clyde. With independence we can ensure that the required exploration can take place to establish whether the favourable geology Professor Howell describes, contains the riches which can help deliver a west of Scotland oil boom.”

SNP MSP Chic Brodie – who last year lodged Freedom of Information requests that uncovered the Ministry of Defence had blocked a potential oil boom in the Firth of Clyde during the 1980s, said:

“The Tories McCrone-type deception of the oil boom potential in the Firth of Clyde is a classic example of Westminster not having Scotland’s best interests at heart. We need independence to create the jobs and economic benefits that will come from oil and gas production rather than squandering Scotland’s wealth by paying for the next 50 years of Trident nuclear weapons.”

Yesterday oil company Hurricane reported appraisal drilling at its Lancaster oil discovery to the West of Shetland was expected to produce double its original estimates of oil.  The company upped its estimate of the amount of oil it expected from just under 10,000 barrels per day to 20,000 barrels per day.

The analysis from Professor Howell follows news that a prominent energy academic has come out in support of a Yes vote in Thursday’s independence referendum. 

Peter Strachan, Professor of Energy Policy at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, and an expert on energy markets, has backed a Yes vote later this week.
Professor Strachan, who is also Strategy and Policy Group Lead within the Department of Management, said he was backing a yes vote for many reasons, but key amongst them was the disgrace of fuel poverty existing in one of the most energy rich countries in the world, and his professional opinion that independence will allow Scotland to cut energy bills and tackle fuel poverty.

Professor Strachan’s intervention comes as more and more energy experts back a Yes vote, including:

  • Alex Russell, Professor of Petroleum Accounting at Robert Gordon University
  • Professor Sir Donald Mackay, former Chair of Scottish Enterprise
  • Professor John Howell, Chair of Petroleum Geology at the University of Aberdeen
  • Dick Winchester, an oil industry expert who sits on the Scottish Energy Advisory Board
  • Ian Godden, founder and chairman of independent oil company Glenmore Energy plc
  • Doug Duguid, CEO of Enermech, and Hugh Fraser managing partner of Andrews Kurth (Middle East)

Commenting Professor Strachan said:
“An independent Scotland committed to renewable energy will ensure both security of supply for Scotland as well as keeping electricity very affordable. Indeed the powers of independence can help cut household energy bills.
“I’ve long thought that it is a complete disgrace that despite being one of the most energy rich countries in the world, far too many people in Scotland are still affected by fuel poverty.  That is a damning indictment of the position Scotland has found itself in within the United Kingdom, and independence can help bring it to an end.”

Professor Strachan said he believed Scottish energy would continue to be needed by consumers south of the border after independence. 

He added: “Indeed without Scottish electricity, bills in the rest of the UK would rise because of the huge capacity constraints in England and Wales – as highlighted by Ofgem – and because there simply is not the interconnector capacity to source the electricity demand elsewhere. 

“In any event many of our European neighbours are also facing energy shortages so it’s clear that Scottish electricity is the most secure and reliable supply available.
“The recent news that the two EDF-owned nuclear power stations at Heysham 1 and Hartlepool in Lancashire are to stay closed for months, is an illustration of the fragility of UK supplies when you have tight margins. 
“Without Scottish electricity it is likely that the rUK would have to schedule more and more planned brown-outs – effectively paying heavy industry to switch off at peak times. Of course those payments are then passed onto consumers and thus push up bills – which is why it’s far, far more sensible and cost-effective to avoid that situation by importing Scottish electricity and supporting generation in Scotland.
“I shall be voting Yes this Thursday and I encourage others to do the same, so we can make Scotland’s energy riches benefit the people of Scotland.”