The UK’s shale gas potential has been “overhyped”, according to a geology expert.

John Underhill, professor of exploration geology and chief scientist at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, said the geology of the UK’s shale gas reserves differed significantly from those in the United States.

Writing on The Conversation website, Underhill pointed out that shifts in the Earth’s crust 55 million years ago meant oil and gas may not have formed in the shale layers.

Previous deformations 290 million years ago may also have affected the layers’ structure.

‘55 million years too late’

Underhill said: “The inherent complexity of the sedimentary basins has not been fully appreciated or articulated and, as a result, the opportunity has been overhyped.

“There is a need to factor this considerable and fundamental geological uncertainty into the economic equation.

“It would be extremely unwise to rely on shale gas to ride to the rescue of the UK's gas needs only to discover that we’re 55 million years too late.”

> Read Underhill's comments in full