MSc Petroleum Exploration

University of Leeds, School of Earth and Environment

Program Description

MSc Petroleum Exploration

University of Leeds, School of Earth and Environment

This two 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 programme 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 programme 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 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.

Your first year will focus on theory and methods used to develop geological models. Central to the course is 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.

You’ll 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, you will 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:

  • Take an introductory field day to Ingleton in North Yorkshire to revise data collection and fundamental field concepts.
  • Undertake a six-day trip to the South West of England, part of the Applied Structural Models module. 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.
  • Take a one-day trip to Whitley Bay. This trip is run in conjunction with Rock Deformation Research where you will look at field examples of fault architecture and deformation bands.
  • Finally, undertake a 12-day trip to the Central Spanish Pyrenees. 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 looks 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 finally, the Frontal Sierras - where you will consider the interaction of salt tectonics with basin deformation.

Jacobs University:

  • Take a 10-day excursion in the vicinity of Rome, Italy - 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.
  • Take a one-day trip to Helgoland, a small rocky island in the North Sea,. Look at typical Rotliegendes reservoir rocks in outcrop.
  • Take a three-day excursion to the Harz Mountains, Germany. 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 teach 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)

This purpose of this course is to provide 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.

The programme comprises 15 taught modules (a total of 240 credits) and a summer dissertation (60 credits).

Year 1

Compulsory modules
Taught at the University of Leeds, modules cover:
  • Reservoir Structural Geology and Hydrocarbon Prospectivity of Basins
  • Applied Geophysical Methods
  • Integrated Sub Surface Analysis
  • Applied Structural Models
  • Geomechanics
  • Applied Geodynamics and Basin Evolution
  • 3D Structure: Techniques and Visualisation
Year 2
Compulsory modules
Taught at Jacobs University, modules cover:
  • Petroleum System Geochemistry and Processes
  • Sedimentary Geology
  • Petroleum System and Depositional Modelling
  • Numerical Analysis
  • Regional Petroleum Systems
  • Petroleum Systems Fieldwork
  • Skills Development
  • Structural Geology Independent Project

Learning and teaching

You’ll be taught by leading academic geoscientists, with input from industry experts throughout the programme. You will learn through field-based and practical-based (individual and group) training. Lectures and seminars are supplemented by desk-based and workstation-based practicals and fieldwork.


At the University of Leeds, you'll have access to the School of Earth and Environment’s £23 million building which provides 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 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 access to a comprehensive range of industry-standard geophysical processing and interpretation software packages, eg MESA, SeisSpace/ProMAX®, KINGDOM, Geosoft and RokDoc. These can be used for individual projects, or in workstation-based teaching sessions. They also facilitate team-based exercises designed to simulate industry practice, e.g. processing a reflection seismic line. Scanning Electron Microscopy facilities are also used 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, assessments differ between modules but generally consist of written exams, coursework (both in-class and independently completed), project report writing, group and individual presentations, assessed practicals and/or formal examinations.

Applying, fees and funding

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. Lower qualifications and non-standard geology degrees may be considered on an ad-hoc basis, supported by relevant experience. Applicants may have to take an entrance exam. 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. If you're unsure about the application process, contact the admissions team for help. 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.


UK/EU: £18,000 International: £45,000 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 is help for students in the form of loans and non-repayable grants from the University and from the government.

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 programme, 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. The majority of students attend the EAGE (European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers) annual meeting in May/June. This provides you with an opportunity 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).
This school offers programs in:
  • English

Last updated September 29, 2017
Duration & Price
This course is Campus based
Start Date
Start date
Aug. 2018
24 months
Full time
18,000 GBP
United Kingdom - Leeds, England
Start date: Aug. 2018
Application deadline Request Info
End date Request Info
Aug. 2018
United Kingdom - Leeds, England
Application deadline Request Info
End date Request Info
UK / EU £18,000; International £45,000