GEOLOGISTS believe there may be reserves of oil and gas in areas around Scotland's coast which have previously been dismissed.

University of Aberdeen experts gave the view after examining oil in rock formations around Rockall - around 300 miles off the west coast of mainland Scotland.

Previous attempts to find hydrocarbons in Rockall have been largely unsuccessful, with only one gas discovery out of 12 wells drilled.

But geologists say past exploration has concentrated in the wrong areas.

Only 12 wells have been drilled in the Rockall Basin, compared to 4,000 in the North Sea. A small amount of gas was discovered in one well.

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But now the geologists say past drilling has been concentrated in the wrong areas.

Geologist Dr Nick Schofield said: “The Rockall Basin is one of the most challenging environments on earth when it comes to hydrocarbon explorations, but our analysis has revealed that one of the barriers to success may have been a misunderstanding of the subsurface geology.

“By analysing seismic data, 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.”

While the discovery does not guarantee that large reserves of oil will be found in the area but, experts describe it as "very much a starter for ten" in terms of their undrestanding of what is going on in Rockall and suggests further exploration is required.

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Dr Schofield 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.”

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

“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 UKCS," said Dr Schofield.

Nick Richardson from the Oil and Gas Authority said: “The seismic acquisition programme and subsequent work by Aberdeen and Heriot Watt universities are an important part of our strategy to revitalise exploration."

Meanwhile Scottish Labour said that the UK government should intervene to protect vital North Sea assets threatened by the oil price downturn.

A motion will be put before the party’s annual conference in Perth urging both the UK and Scottish Governments to temporarily buy-up crucial oil and gas infrastructure that risks being scrapped.

And Oil and Gas UK, the body which represents the energy section has said the industry is getting its head above water after posting negative tax receipts for the first time in 2015-16.

Figures for last year show the Treasury put £24 million more into investment and decommissioning than it got back in petroleum revenue tax - the first time the oil balance sheet has been in the red since records began in 1968-69.

Mike Tholen, of Oil and Gas UK, said that "reflects the torment of the sector", which had generated more than £2 billion in revenues the previous year.

He said: "The low point last year represented the fact that the industry was spending more than it was earning, which is clearly not a healthy point to be at."