School of Earth and Environment

Petroleum Exploration MSc

(Full time) 2017 start

MSc Petroleum Exploration


Key facts

  • Duration/Mode:
    24 months full time
  • UK/EU fees: £18,000 (total)
    International fees: £45,000 (total)
  • Entry requirements:
    A bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons) in a related subject
  • Language requirements:
    IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component
  • Course terms and conditions

This 2 year Masters is designed to meet the demanding and evolving needs of industry, equipping you with the tools to be highly skilled petroleum explorationists. It aims to prepare you for classic, conventional exploration and develop your skills to meet the changing needs of unconventional exploration.

This course integrates the strengths of two leading universities, offering you training in petroleum exploration that is unique from any other course globally.

The University of Leeds is a Russell Group University established in 1904. Research-led teaching and commitment to excellence, creates a dynamic learning environment and makes Leeds one of the UK’s top universities.

Jacobs University is a private, English language, residential university, distinguished by its international orientation and highly selective admission, based on candidates’ academic and personal potential. First-class research and teaching, international diversity and trans-disciplinary cooperation are the hallmarks of this state-recognised university.

Course highlights:

  • The course combines the strengths of the University of Leeds in applied geophysics and structural geology with the strengths of Jacobs University in petroleum system modelling and organic geochemistry.
  • Undertake free fieldwork in the UK and EU that is directly linked to your classroom learning.
  • Access a comprehensive suite of industry-standard software that will enhance your learning.
  • Attend the Jacobs Basin Dynamics Hydrocarbon Conference and learn from experts within industry and academia who share their experience and insights.
  • In your final year, enter the Imperial Barrel Award run by the American Association of Petroleum Geologist a leading international professional body for the hydrocarbons industry. This award provides you with a realistic exploration exercise at the same time as giving you an opportunity to compete with other universities at both a European and international levels.

Course Directors:

Dr Douglas Paton, University of Leeds

Douglas has held a number of industry-facing research positions at the University of Edinburgh, GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam and Colorado School of Mines.

In addition to being Course Director, he is the Principal Investigator of the Basin Structure Group and is looking to develop closer links between the Masters and the research group.

His research focuses on industrially orientated projects looking at the evolution and deformation of sedimentary basins and how this evolution influences hydrocarbon propsectivity.

Prof Rolando di Primio, Jacobs University

Rolando is Adjunct Professor of Petroleum Geosciences and Head of Petroleum System Modelling in the Organic Geochemistry section at the GeoForschungsZentrum, Potsdam.

His research interests include hydrocarbon phase behaviour, basin modelling and organic geochemistry.

He supports knowledge transfer back to the industry through the role of Executive Director at GeoS4 GmbH, Germany.

Course terms and conditions

Course content

Modules are devised to both advance your understanding of key topics (including large scale tectonics, basin evolution, organic geochemistry and heat flow modelling) and your technical ability, through the use of industry leading software.

In your first year, focus on theory and methods used to develop geological models.

Gain an understanding of the geology behind basin evolution and the use of 3D and 4D thinking in geological contexts, skills that are essential for industry employment.

Also gain a broad understanding of the hydrocarbon system and an appreciation of both the geological and geophysical constraints with respect to seismic interpretation and model building.

This allows you to use geophysical techniques to construct geologically realistic models and be aware of the uncertainty in those models. Seismic interpretation, geophysical methods, 3D structural visualisation and modelling, sequence stratigraphy, petrophysics and reservoir structural geology are covered in detail.

In your second year, focus on how geological models are used for input for petroleum system modelling and the processes which control petroleum prospectivity, from source to trap.

This will include theory and application of organic geochemistry, sedimentology, petroleum system modelling and will integrate the AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Award.


Fieldwork to the UK and overseas is free and forms an integral part of the course. It is directly linked to learning outcomes in the classroom:

University of Leeds:

Ingleton, North Yorkshire

An introductory field day to revise data collection and fundamental field concepts.

South West of England

This is six-day trip is part of the Applied Structural Models module, where you will consider compressional deformation along the North Cornwall coastline and look at regional tectonics, basin scale deformation and the interaction of sediments with structure.

An essential component of this is understanding multiple phases of deformation through application of models and restorations.

We then move to Kilve, Somerset, where you will focus on extensional tectonics and inversion.

In addition to characterising 3D fault geometry, you will also consider fault seal analysis, reservoir connectivity, and undertake a mini-dissertation on applying outcrop scale fault data to sub-surface exploration.

Whitley Bay, North East of England

This one-day trip is run in conjunction with Rock Deformation Research where you will look at field examples of fault architecture and deformation bands.

Central Spanish Pyrenees

Finally, take a 12-day trip where you will consider implications of regional scale tectonics and orogenic deformation on basin evolution and reservoir distribution. And the influence of sediment-structure interaction in basin evolution and tie outcrop scale observations with seismic examples.

The trip includes: the Tremp basin - where you will look at large scale tectonics and basin evolution.

The Ainsa system including Axial Zone - where you will investigate structures that both control basin formation and modification with specific focus on deep water clastics.

And the Frontal Sierras - where you will consider the interaction of salt tectonics with basin deformation.

Jacobs University:

Rome, Italy

Take a 10-day excursion where you will bring together silicilastic and carbonate petroleum systems of the central Apennines (Abruzzi and Marche, Italy).

This trip has been designed to complement, extend and bridge concepts and topics discussed during the course. In particular, it provides field analogues from seismic to microscopic scale basin processes.

In addition, the region has a challenging structural and paleogeographic history ranging from a passive margin of the Tethys Ocean to the very active Adria continental microplate undergoing strong rotation, subsidence and uplift during late Neogene times.

Helgoland, North Sea

Take a one-day trip to this small rocky island and look at typical Rotliegendes reservoir rocks in outcrop.

Harz Mountains, Germany

Take a three-day excursion to look at some of the major Paleozoic reservoir analogues in the regions.

Additional day trips to the German National Oil Museum, Carboniferous Quarries, German Offshore Oil Field or the Dutch Groninger Gas Field might also take place.

Software training

This Masters is not set up to train software technicians, nor is its aim to teach students all the specific functionality of particular software programmes. We therefore integrate our training directly with theory in the relevant modules and do not treat it in a 'black-box' fashion.

In many cases we will teach you the theory first and then demonstrate how software can be used to apply the theory, test models or establish a more efficient workflow.

Software training is normally undertaken through a mixture of vendor visits and using in-house expertise.

Kingdom Suite (SMT)

Kingdom Suite is used as the more traditional seismic interpretation and attribute analysis software, and forms a key component of the Seismic Interpretation module.

Move Suite (Midland Valley)

The MOVE Structural Modelling and Analysis Suite of Software is used for geospatial model building, cross-section generation and seismic interpretation validation. It is used within a number of modules, including 3D Visualisation, Structural Models, Geodynamics and is used extensively during projects.

We also utilise the other capabilities of MOVE during projects, such as Geomechanical modelling, Fracture Modelling and Fieldmove.

OpendTect (dGB)

While Kingdom Suite and Petrel are used for seismic interpretation, OpendTect is principally used for its attribute analysis functionality.

Topics covered include gas chimney evaluation, similarity, coherence using dip steering and sequence stratigraphic analysis.

Petrel (Schlumberger)

In addition to 2D and 3D seismic interpretation, Petrel is also used for depth conversion, fault modelling and geocellular model building.

In recent years we have worked closely with Rock Deformation Research who run a short course on the RDR fault analysis and modelling, building workflows in Petrel.

We have also had short courses delivered by Equipoise and Fairfield Energy to cover the other aspects of Petrel modelling and workflows.

Petromod (Schlumberger)

Petromod provides an appreciation of the origin of hydrocarbons and charge risking. This will address source rock formation, composition and evaluation and influence of thermal state on maturation and fluid phase.

It will also consider fluid properties, geochemical assessment of compartmentalisation, and interpretation of static pressure data.

RokDoc (Ikon)

Well log interpretation using Rock Doc forms an integral component of the Petrophysics module.

Stretch and Flex (Badley)

We are anticipating introducing an introduction to Badley’s Strech and Flex software.

The purpose of this is to consider the implications of lithsopheric extension on basin evolution and thermal histories of hydrocarbon basins.

Traptester (Badley)

As part of the Reservoir Structural Geology module, students are given a short course on using Traptester for fault seal analysis and reservoir modelling.

In addition, we have the following software available for project specific uses: Gocad Suite (Paradigm) and Hampson Russell.

Course structure

These are typical modules/components studied and may change from time to time. Read more in our Terms and conditions.

Year 1

Compulsory modules

  • Reservoir Structural Geology and Hydrocarbon Prospectivity of Basins 15 credits
  • Applied Geophysical Methods 15 credits
  • Integrated Sub Surface Analysis 30 credits
  • Applied Structural Models 20 credits
  • Geomechanics 10 credits
  • Applied Geodynamics and Basin Evolution 15 credits
  • 3D Structure: Techniques and Visualisation 15 credits

Year 2

Compulsory modules

  • Petroleum System Geochemistry and Processes 30 credits
  • Sedimentary Geology 10 credits
  • Petroleum System and Depositional Modelling 20 credits
  • Numerical Analysis 10 credits
  • Regional Petroleum Systems 10 credits
  • Petroleum Systems Fieldwork 20 credits
  • Skills Development 20 credits
  • Structural Geology Independent Project 60 credits

Learning and teaching

Be taught by leading academic geoscientists, with input from industry experts throughout the course.

Learn through field-based and practical-based (individual and group) training, while your lectures and seminars are supplemented by desk-based and workstation-based practicals and fieldwork.


At the University of Leeds, the School of Earth and Environment’s £23m building gives you access to world-class research, teaching and laboratory facilities.

Ongoing investment in leading geophysical survey equipment means that you can effectively practise and demonstrate a range of techniques in the field including shooting seismic reflection surveys.

Equipment includes seismic, gravity, magnetics, GPR, resistivity/IP, EM, GPS/positioning. These datasets are subsequently used in your classroom/computer exercises to establish a practical link between field practice and data quality and interpretability.

A dedicated computer lab containing a suite of high-powered computers enhances your learning experience by providing you with access to a comprehensive range of industry-standard geophysical processing and interpretation software packages, eg MESA, SeisSpace/ProMAX®, KINGDOM, Geosoft and RokDoc.

You can use these for individual projects, or in workstation-based teaching sessions. The software will also facilitate team-based exercises designed to simulate industry practice, e.g. processing a reflection seismic line.

You can also use Scanning Electron Microscopy facilities to run practicals on fault rock architecture and micro-scale deformation.

At Jacobs University, you’ll have access to state of the art computational and visualisation facilities.

In addition to the onsite facilities, offsite partner research institutes, such as the AWI or GFZ provide access to a wide range of laboratory and analytical tools.

Small class sizes with low student-teacher ratios are a key element of education at Jacobs University.


Given the variety of learning outcomes and teaching methods, you will be assessed differently across modules but generally assessed on written exams, coursework (both in-class and independently completed), project report writing, group and individual presentations, practicals and/or formal examinations.

Entry requirements

A bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons) or above in a geological, geophysical, environmental geology, mining or related subject. Mathematics to A-level is also preferred, although GSCE level is accepted.

If you have a lower qualification and a non-standard geology degree, you may be considered on an ad-hoc basis, supported by relevant experience. You may also have to take an entrance exam.

International qualifications

We accept a range of international equivalent qualifications. For information contact the School of Earth and Environment admissions team.

English language requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component. For other English qualifications, read English language equivalent qualifications.

Improve your English

If English is not your first language, you may be able to take a pre-sessional course before you begin your studies. This can help if you:

  • don't meet the English language requirements for your course or
  • want to improve your understanding of academic language and practices in your area of study.

Our pre-sessional courses are designed with a progression route to the degree programme and are tailored to the subject area. For information and entry requirements, read Language for Science (6 weeks) and Language for Science: General Science (10 weeks)

How to apply

This link takes you to information on applying for taught programmes and to the University's online application system.
If you're unsure about the application process, contact the admissions team for help.

Read School of Earth and Environment advice on how to apply.

Visas and Immigration

Read about visas, immigration and other information in International students. We recommend that international students apply as early as possible to ensure that they have time to apply for their visa.

Admissions policy

Link to admissions policy document


UK/EU fees: £18,000 (total)
International fees: £45,000 (total)

For fees information for international taught postgraduate students, read Masters fees.

Additional cost information

There may be additional costs related to your course or programme of study, or related to being a student at the University of Leeds. Read more about additional costs

Scholarships and financial support

If you have the talent and drive, we want you to be able to study with us, whatever your financial circumstances. There may be help for students in the form of loans and non-repayable grants from the University and from the government.  Find out more at Masters funding overview.

Career opportunities

You will be prepared to enter the Petroleum Exploration industry and be provided with:

  • a unique, industry-focused course on petroleum exploration
  • tuition and maintenance costs covered allowing you to devote all of your time to your studies
  • industry summer internships in your sponsor's company
  • conference visits
  • extensive applied field trips
  • opportunities to apply your knowledge by participating in the AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Award.


Careers support

We offer extra support and activities to help you stand out in your chosen field and achieve your career goals.

The School of Earth and Environment has a strong commitment to enhancing student employability and has its own dedicated Employability Officer. Read more about our careers and employability.

Strong links with industry reinforce this vocational Masters degree, helping you to develop a grounded perspective, as well as providing you with recruitment possibilities.

In addition to the industrial experience of many School staff and contributions from University of Leeds geoscience spin-out companies, you will have numerous contacts with industry representatives throughout the year.

We have many visits from energy, geophysical acquisition, processing and software companies, primarily to engage with you and recruit Masters students throughout their degree. These visits include recruitment information, technical showcases and case studies of integrated geoscience in practice, as well as opportunities for you to network with geoscience professionals.

You will have the opportunity to attend the EAGE (European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers) annual meeting in May/June. This provides you with a chance to find out about the latest technological developments and to meet industry experts including potential employers.

Why sponsor a student?

Why sponsor a student?

The availability of high quality graduates with industry-specific advanced training is dependent upon partnerships between Universities and Industry.

These partnerships must provide a training programme that has world-class and industry relevant content, but that is also financial feasible to ensure that the best and brightest students from across Europe can participate in it.

We are asking specific companies to participate in our Scholarship Scheme. The prestigious scholarships will be publicised in the top-ranked universities on a country-by-country basis. This will give your company the opportunity to:

  • have access to, and select, the best earth science graduates in Europe (or your designated country)
  • be highly visible in the top ranked Universities in Europe
  • access to students for internships between year 1 and 2
  • devise company specific topics for their dissertation enabling you to get the most out of their skills
  • recruit students that have a globally unique
  • petroleum exploration education background that will ensure that they are valuable employees as soon as they start
  • participate in an external advisory board so that your company can help to shape the future direction of the course.

Students on the course will be provided with:

  • a unique, industry-focused course on petroleum exploration
  • tuition and maintenance costs covered allowing them to devote all of their time to the course
  • industry summer internships in your company,
  • conference visits
  • extensive applied field trips
  • opportunities to apply their knowledge by participating in the AAPG’s Imperial Barrel Award.

The cost of the scholarship will be £45,000 (excluding costs associated with summer internships).

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