Hydrocarbon systems

BGS Research

The BGS works with UK and overseas governments, the World Bank, other national geoscience organisations, oil company consortia and Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) to provide geological advice and services in support of exploration and development activity.

Oil rig Ocean Guardian. Photograph courtesy of Stephen Luxton. Copyright © Falkland Islands Government.
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Our aim is to use and develop our expertise and experience in subsurface geology, basin analysis and hydrocarbon systems in the following ways:

  • understanding the petroleum potential of the UK and its offshore regions, so that we may advise the UK Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) on the UK’s hydrocarbon reserves
  • evaluating and documenting the remaining prospectivity of the UK, to help our industry collaborators identify hydrocarbon resources as part of a roadmap for low-carbon energy resources
  • understanding the geological evolution of the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) in its wider North Atlantic setting, in collaboration with other national geological survey organisations, to fully evaluate the geological context of our collective offshore resources
  • evaluating the petroleum potential of other countries so their governments might facilitate inward investment, leading to sustainable energy roadmaps for a region

Our expertise covers a wide range of aspects of the exploration business, from regional geological studies through to prospect generation, field development studies, licensing and marketing and promotion of opportunities. We also have considerable experience of negotiating and managing the exploration programmes that governments require oil companies to deliver as part of their licence agreements.


We have worked (sometimes in in partnerships with specialist economic and engineering consultancies) to deliver integrated geological, prospectivity, economic and development analyses for clients including:

  • Falkland Islands Government
  • governments and national oil companies in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and the former Soviet Union
  • UK Government
  • World Bank
Geology of the Faroe-Shetland Basin and adjacent areas.
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Geology of the Faroe–Shetland Basin and adjacent areas. BGS © UKRI.

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We have also worked with several different oil company consortia, including:

  • Rockall Consortium
  • Passive Margins Modelling Project Consortium
  • Faroe–Shetland Consortium (FSC; now in its third three-year phase)

In addition to the eight oil company sponsors, the FSC is conducted in partnership with Faroese Earth and Energy Directorate, Jarðfeingi, and the Northeast Atlantic Geoscience Tectonostratigraphic Atlas Consortium (NAG-TEC), whose partners comprise the ‘NAG group’ of north European geological surveys, led by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) and sponsored by a number of oil companies.

The BGS team also played a role in the production of the Southern Permian Basin Atlas and the Millennium Atlas.

Selected research

The team has substantial research interests and jointly supervises PhD and Masters students at Keele University undertaking a range of cutting-edge research into subsurface fluid flow in complexly faulted, dry land depositional systems in both the UK and the USA. We also have research links with the University of Adelaide in Australia and Heriot-Watt University in the UK.

The petroleum geoscience team has worked with the Falkland Islands Government since 1992 and provides advice on the exploration setting and potential of all the offshore basins. Summaries of the geology of the region and of its petroleum potential are available at the Falklands Islands Government Department of Mineral Resources.

Licences, wells and discoveries in the Falklands offshore.
Licences, wells and discoveries in the Falklands offshore.

The petroleum geoscience team coordinates a consortium-based research approach to understanding the tectonostratigraphic evolution of the north west Atlantic margin.

The Faroe–Shetland Consortium (FSC) was established by the BGS, Jarðfeingi and sponsoring oil companies, with the aim of investigating the tectono-stratigraphic development of the Faroe–Shetland region. It grew from foundations established during an earlier collaborative joint industry project that delivered the BGS/Jarðfeingi Faroe-Shetland Basin regional report. A number of advantages resulted from this collaborative approach, including a joined-up overview of the entire region (not just national sectors) and cost sharing to support an ambitious programme of work. The BGS and Jarðfeingi aim to benefit from the co-funded research through publication of results for national-good purposes, once the period of sponsorship confidentiality has lapsed.

The FSC has completed two three-year phases of work, resulting in a suite of reports and GIS databases describing the structure and stratigraphy of the Faroe–Shetland region. These are based on an analysis of commercial seismic, released wells, BGS shallow boreholes, potential field data, third party (Ichron Limited) biostratigraphic data and the published literature.

Phases one and two of the project highlighted key areas of uncertainty, which will be addressed in phase three of the project. The major subprojects of phase three will include:

  • interpretation of the facies and depositional setting of Upper Jurassic coarse clastic rocks, to evaluate the evolution of the proto-north-east Atlantic margin and its consequent tectonic setting
  • generation of new biostratigraphic and radiometric age dating of the Paleocene–earliest Eocene breakup succession, to provide a new stratigraphic framework
  • fully integrated interpretation of the structure of the area south-east of the Faroe Islands using reprocessed seismic data


These tasks were agreed by existing project sponsors at a kick-off meeting of sponsors in August 2015.

The BGS and Jarðfeingi welcome the participation of additional sponsors into the consortium.

If you want to discover more then please contact BGS Enquiries.

Reports issued to sponsors of Phases 1 and 2.
Reports issued to sponsors of phases one and two. BGS © UKRI.

The petroleum geoscience team works closely with the UK Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), formerly part of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, to provide advice on the remaining oil and gas prospectivity of the UK and its offshore regions. The results of this work are used by the UK Government to quantify the country’s unfound resources and to identify areas and prospects that can be promoted to the oil industry. Although much of this work is confidential to the OGA, we have published a number of regional reviews, including those for the shale gas potential of three onshore areas of the UK: the Midland Valley of Scotland, the Weald Basin and the Bowland Shale of northern England.

Location of the hydrocarbon-producing basins and frontier basins of the UK and its designated waters.
Location of the hydrocarbon-producing basins and frontier basins of the UK and its designated waters.

The petroleum geoscience team has worked with the UK Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) and a consortium of over 45 oil companies to evaluate the remaining petroleum potential of previously overlooked or ‘unfashionable’ areas of the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).

The 21st Century Exploration Roadmap (21CXRM): Palaeozoic Project is part of the UK Government’s endeavour to maximise the economic recovery of hydrocarbons on the UKCS in response to the Wood Review.

A study of the Palaeozoic of the UKCS was one of the first projects to be implemented as part of 21CXRM. Multidisciplinary studies further defined the Carboniferous and Devonian petroleum systems focused over and around the Mid-North Sea High and northwards to the Orcadian Basin/East Shetland Platform. In the wider Irish Sea area, the focus was the Carboniferous play.

Overview of the three study areas.
Overview of the three study areas.

Coinciding with the release by the OGA of seismics across and around the Mid-North Sea High frontier area, project results have been delivered digitally to project sponsors. They include seismic, well and gravity interpretations along with burial/uplift/maturity modelling, source-rock geochemistry studies and palaeographic reconstructions to inform the location of prospective Carboniferous and Devonian plays. Onshore data and knowledge have also been incorporated.

A thick Carboniferous channel sandstone unit within a 'Yoredale' cycle, Northumberland — an analogue for reservoir sandstones in the Carboniferous play of the Central North Sea (P662952).
A thick Carboniferous channel sandstone unit within a ‘Yoredale’ cycle, Northumberland — an analogue for reservoir sandstones in the Carboniferous play of the Central North Sea. BGS © UKRI.

The results were published under the Open Government License in March 2017 and are loaded to the BGS Offshore GeoIndex.

Users should note that:

  • these outputs are at a regional scale, created for project-specific purposes and so should be used appropriately
  • they are not BGS corporate products, but peer-reviewed project outputs


Data downloads

All project files (816 MB .zip) The complete set of reports and digital products metadata
Mid-North Sea High/Central North Sea files (230 MB .zip) Reports and digital products for the Mid-North Sea High/Central North Sea; metadata
Orcadian study area files (159 MB .zip) Reports and digital products for the Orcadian study area; metadata
Irish Sea files (91 MB .zip) Reports and digital products for the Irish Sea area; metadata
Overview products files (336 MB .zip) Overview reports, presentations and posters and paleogeographic/structural digital products; metadata

Terms of use

Available under the Open Government Licence subject to the following acknowledgement accompanying the reproduced BGS materials: ‘Contains British Geological Survey materials © UKRI [year].’


If you want to discover more then please contact Alison Monaghan.

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