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Oil Exploration

St Kilda lies along the Atlantic margin, seen on the right of this satellite gravity map.


The line of north-westerly trending grey troughs running from off Ireland to northern Norway marks an abortive split between Europe and Greenland some 110 million years ago, when marine microplankton formed the potential source rock for future oilfields.


microplankton were the source of today's oil and gas reserves

For more about how oil and gas form see


55 million years ago St Kilda was one of six major volcanoes lying west of the uplifted Hebrides-Shetland Platform. Erosion at this time produced the sands that now form the oil reservoirs in many North Sea and Atlantic margin hydrocarbon fields.

Since this volcanic uplift the Atlantic margin has subsided. Source rocks are now so deeply buried along the troughs that gas has been generated, as in the gas fields of the North Sea, whereas oil was generated from the terraces, which did not subside so much.

More than 100 exploration wells had been drilled in the UK part of the Atlantic margin and some geologists had written off the exploration potential before BP discovered the Foinaven and Schiehallion oilfields to the west of Shetland in 1992/1993.

The Foinaven field contains between 250 and 600 million barrels of recoverable oil; Schiehallion 340 and Loyal 85.

The latest status of exploration licensing on the Atlantic margin can be found at

Greenpeace challenged the UK's right to award licences outwith a 200 mile zone, citing recently mapped deep-water coral banks of Lophelia pertusa.

Click here for some key points from the judge's summing up ..


The Atlantic margin is a hostile environment:

what if an oil spill should occur?

Check today's wave height out in the Atlantic

In the event of a spill strong wave action is the best dispersant.

Which way are the waves heading today?

How would you assess the risk to St Kilda?

Could other areas be more at risk?

© The National Trust for Scotland