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Home > Courses > Courses for 2017 > Postgraduate > Petroleum Geoscience
More in this section Earth Sciences

Petroleum Geoscience MSc

UCAS code
Year of entry 2017
View 2018 entry »
Course Length
1 year full time
2 years part time
Department Earth Sciences »


The hydrocarbon industry is one of our most important sectors, helping to cater for needs as diverse as domestic energy, transportation and plastics manufacturing. Our flexible MSc in Petroleum Geoscience provides you with the ideal training for a career in the hydrocarbon industry and related sectors. 

Our teaching on Petroleum Geoscience at Royal Holloway, University of London is informed by leading research and links to the international oil industry, meaning that you’ll benefit from the most relevant, up-to-date learning. The programme lets you select from a range of course modules to tailor your learning to your own preferences and ambitions.  

You’ll study in the renowned Department of Earth Sciences, which is consistently ranked among the UK’s top 10 (The Complete University Guide and The Guardian 2016) – contributing towards our leading research culture with your own Independent Research Project. You’ll become a part of a vibrant international graduate community, and make use of our extensive range of modern facilities as you work towards a rewarding future career. 

Our Petroleum Geoscience MSc has run since 1985, and has become recognised as one of the world’s premier training centres for the hydrocarbon industry. We’ve established excellent industry links, and have helped over 600 graduates from 32 countries progress into rewarding careers. Study Petroleum Geoscience at Royal Holloway and you’ll graduate with excellent employment prospects in a well-paid sector with job opportunities across the globe.

  • Benefit from a pioneering research culture, with 94% of Department of Earth Sciences research ranked world-leading or internationally excellent – no.2 in the UK. (REF 2014)
  • Graduate with a Masters degree from a department consistently ranked among the UK’s top 10 (The Complete University Guide and The Guardian 2016).
  • Study a programme internationally recognised as one of the industry’s best.
  • Graduate with excellent employability prospects in the UK and overseas.

Core modules

Tectonics and Lithosphere Dynamics

This module is split into three components. The first will introduce you to modern plate tectonic theory and its application to understanding of formation of sedimentary basins based on earthquake data, tomography, gravity and magnetics. The second covers different tectonic settings and examines how the mechanical properties of plates can be applied to understand deformation, subsidence and heat flow within sedimentary basins. The third examines a range of terranes through the interpretation of remote sensing imagery and includes training in the use of geographical information systems (GIS) for compiling geological databases.

Geophysical Analysis

In this module you will develop an understanding of the methods by which seismic data are acquired and the impact of acquisition parameters on data quality. You will look at the basics of horizon and fault correlation, tying seismic data to well data, and 2D and 3D interpretation methodologies. You will consider the principles of seismic wave theory, the main steps involved in the processing of a typical seismic processing sequence, and the limitations of the technique in terms of imaging the subsurface, including an introduction to the concept of amplitude versus offset (AVO). You will examine and apply industry-standard seismic interpretation workflows. 

Structural Analysis

In this module you will develop an understanding of large scale structures in the field and how seismic data and remote-sensing data can be used to interpret them in terms of their kinematics and geological evolution. You will also look at these structures in the context of tectonic evolution and how this knowledge can be applied to the analysis of hydrocarbon fields, prospects, and mineral deposits. This module is taught in four week-long stages, the first of which is largely field-based. You will examine the theoretical aspects of fault and fold growth and initiation, analysing the evidence for these using outcrop studies in Somerset in Devon. The other stages consider rock mechanics and petroleum geomechanics, and the types of structures found in sedimentary basins.

Petroleum Systems

In this module you will develop an understanding of the various elements of a petroleum system, including source rocks, migration pathways, reservoirs, seals and trapping structures. You will look at source rock deposition and geochemistry, kerogen kinetics and numerical basin modelling. Using an Eastern Mediterranean basin example, you will carry out play-fairway analysis to construct petroleum system summary charts, and produce gross depositional environment (GDE) and common risk segment (CRS) maps. You will examine hydrocarbon plays, using quantitative methods, and conduct volumetric estimates, risk analyses and simple economic analysis of individual leads and prospects. Working as part of a team, you will integrate data from various soruces to conduct a basin or play-fairway petroleum system evaluation in a major semi-mature hydrocarbon-bearing basin.

Independent Project

You will have the opportunity to carry out an in-depth piece of independent research on a topic of your choice within the field of petroleum geoscience. You will carry out research in collaboration with companies in the petroleum industry, who will also provide data and / or a component of your supervision. You will attend an induction session at the start of the project and present short updates at regular review seminars. You will produce a 15,000 word report and give an oral and poster presentation at a symposium attended by examiners and guests from the industry.

Optional modules

In addition to these mandatory course units there are a number of optional course units available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course units that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new units may be offered or existing units may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.

You will take either Sedimentology and Regional Tectonic Analysis or Reservoir Geoscience and Advanced Structural Analysis.

Sedimentology

In this module you will develop an understanding of the processes of sedminent supply and transport in clastic sedimentary systems. You will look at depositional processes and the characteristics of deposits formed in glacial, aeolian, alluvial fan, fluvial, lacustrine, lagoonal, coastal, marine shelf and deep marine environments. You will examine carbonate sedimentary systems and the application of sequence stratigraphy in analysing carbonate platforms and ramps. You will also cary out practical work involving the description and interpretation of sediment cores and the use of that data to construct palaeogeographic maps.

Regional Tectonic Analysis

In this module you will develop an understanding of the main techniques of regional tectonic analysis and how these can be applied to formation of various geological structures, particularly those that have the potential of act as traps for conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs. You will look at the use of seismic interpretation, focal mechanisms, probabilty analysis of fracture networks, and general stress and displacement analysis for tectonically active regions. You will consider the formation and evolution of passive margins, including the technique of basin subsidence analysis, and carry out a regional tectonic analysis to examine the likely conditions for the formation of conventional fractured reservoirs. You also will evaluate the condition of formation for unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs including gas shales, basement reservoirs, and reservoirs associated with various types of intrusions.

Reservoir Geoscience

In thid module you will develop an understanding of the basic physical principles of reservoir geoscience and how to apply them in general reservoir studies. You will look at reservoir geophysics, including the standard technique used in well-log analysis, permeability development and maintenance in porous and fractured reservoirs. You will examine seismic interpretation techniques, including training in the use of standard software for reservoir geoscience, such as Petrel. You will consider porosity and permeability development and fluid transport in porous and fractured reservoirs, analysing fracture-related permeability and fluid transport using numerical approaches. You will evaluate the use of Darcy's law for flow in porous rocks and the cubic law for flow in rocks, seeing how these laws apply together in large fault zones, and their overall effect on, and control of. fluid transport in reservoirs.

Advanced Structural Analysis

In this module you will develop an understanding of model fluid transport in fractured hydrocarbon reservoirs. You will look at the structural geology and fracture mechanics applied to conventional and unconventional fractured reservoirs, including hydraulic fracturing of gas shales. You will consider the basic theories on the mechanics of fault formation and development, the relation between faulting and permeability, and how these theories can be applied to fluid transport in reservoirs and potential reservoir leakage. You will also examine advanced analytical methods for analysing aperture variations in fractures, and associated fluid transport, where the driving pressure varies along the fracture rather than being constant. You will gain practical experience in applying numerical-modelling methods to rock structures such as faults, extension fractures, folds, and reservoirs, using commerical boundary-element and finite-element codes such as Beasy and Comsol.

The taught course units are assessed by a combination of written exams and coursework. Each of the six units comprises 10% of the total assessment for the MSc course. The remaining 40% of the assessment comes from the Independent Research Project.

Entry criteria:

UK upper second class degree (2:1), or equivalent, in a relevant subject such as Geology or Geophysics. Candidates meeting the minimum entry requirement of a UK lower second-class degree (2:2), or equivalent, will still be considered – provided that they can demonstrate significant industry experience and/or additional relevant training.

Candidates with a UK upper second-class degree (2:1), or equivalent, in related subjects, such as Physics, Physical Geography or Oceanography will also be considered, provided that their degree contains significant components relevant to Geology, or they have significant industry experience and/or additional relevant training.

English language requirements:

IELTS 6.5 overall and a minimum of 5.5 in all other subscores. For equivalencies, please see here


If you require Royal Holloway to sponsor your study in the UK, your IELTS must be a UK government-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT)

International and EU entry requirements

Please select your country from the drop-down list below




Students from overseas should visit the International pages for information on the entry requirements from their country and further information on English language requirements. Royal Holloway offers a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students and English language pre-sessional courses, allowing students the opportunity to develop their study skills and English language before starting their postgraduate degree.

 Additional information:

  • You will also be required to submit a copy of your C.V. as part of your application.
  • We hold two Open Days during January and February which prospective applicants are invited to attend. Eligible UK and EU applicants will also be interviewed for studentships at these events. If you are unable to attend an Open Day, telephone interviews or alternative visits can be arranged.

A successful applicant will usually have the following qualities:

  • A strong academic background
  • An enthusiasm for Petroleum Geoscience, illustrated by work experience, involvement in relevant student projects, membership of professional societies and attendance at relevant conferences and meetings.
  • Relevant work experience is useful, but not essential.

Petroleum Geoscience at Royal Holloway, University of London was first established in 1985, giving us ample time to build valuable links with the international oil industry. We’re now recognised worldwide as one of the hydrocarbon industry’s premier training facilities, having helped more than 600 graduates from 32 countries progress into rewarding careers in the Earth Sciences. 

This flexible Masters programme will equip you with a range of skills and knowledge necessary to achieve a fulfilling career in a sector with many well-paid career opportunities in the UK and abroad. There is huge demand for well qualified petroleum geoscientists, and as we’re considered world leaders in the field, you’ll graduate as a highly desirable candidate for employers in a variety of sectors. 

  • Jobs fairs, skills workshops and visits from industry representatives provide students with excellent career opportunities.
  • 90% of graduates in work or further education within six months of graduating.
  • Graduate with a desirable Masters degree from a recognised world-leader in the hydrocarbon industry.

Home and EU students tuition fee per year 2017/18*: £10,050

Overseas students tuition fee per year 2017/18*: £18,500

Other essential costs**: £1,000 (fieldwork)

How do I pay for it? Find out more about funding options, including loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries.

* These tuition fees apply to students enrolled on a full-time basis. Students studying part-time are charged a pro-rata tuition fee, usually equivalent to approximately half the full-time fee. Please email student-fees@royalholloway.ac.uk for further information on part-time fees. All postgraduate fees are subject to inflationary increases. Royal Holloway's policy is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5 per cent for continuing students. For further information see tuition fees and our terms and conditions.

** These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing, have not been included.

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