The MSc Petroleum Geoscience course is managed by Dr. Gary Hampson (Course Director) with assistance from dedicated teaching staff. This team deals with all aspects of the course, including curriculum development and course delivery, and is supported by over 20 specialist internal and external staff with many years of oil industry experience. The course also benefits from contributions from industry professionals.

The key aspects of course structure are:

  • Course duration: 50 weeks (early October to mid-September)
  • Classroom teaching, group projects, fieldwork-based teaching: Terms 1 and 2 (early October to early April)
  • Examinations: Term 3 (May)
  • Independent projects: Term 3 and summer (early June to mid-September)

Term 1: Production Geoscience

Term 1 (11 weeks, October-December) addresses Production Geoscience as currently practiced in the oil industry, which requires a broad understanding of geological, geophysical and reservoir engineering subjects. For this reason, there is strong integration between the MSc Petroleum Geoscience and MSc Petroleum Engineering courses during this period. The syllabus comprises 8 weeks of classroom-taught courses followed by a 3-week Production Geoscience Group Project, which provides practical experience of industry-style workflows.

A 3D image of the Wytch Farm fieldModules studied in Term 1 include:

  • Development Geology and Reservoir Modelling
  • Seismic Techniques
  • Petroleum Structural Geology
  • Characterisation of Fractured Reservoirs
  • Petrophysics
  • Petroleum Engineering
  • Geostatistics
  • Introduction to Petroleum Engineering
  • Hydrocarbon Reserves

Right: A 3D image of the Wytch Farm field, southern England; this dataset forms the basis of the Term 1 Production Geoscience team exercise

Term 2: Exploration Geoscience

Term 2 (11 weeks, January-March) addresses Exploration Geoscience, with an emphasis on applying current concepts, methods and technologies (e.g. basin analysis, sequence stratigraphy, petroleum systems modelling, seismic interpretation) to hydrocarbon basins. The syllabus comprises 7 weeks of classroom-taught courses followed by a 4-week Exploration Geoscience Group Project, which provides further practical experience of industry-style work. Student teams present their project work to a panel of selected industry judges. The term is followed by a fieldwork-based synthesis , which provides the opportunity to revise and integrate many aspects of the entire course prior to the exams.

Modules studied in Term 2 include:

  • Characterisation and Modelling of Petroleum Systems
  • Applied Sedimentology
  • Basin Analysis
  • Play Fairway Analysis
  • Machine Learning for Geoscientists

  various disciplines

The ability to integrate various disciplines is the key theme in Term 2 of the Petroleum Geoscience MSc


Group Projects

In addition to the teaching programme in terms 1 and 2, students undertake the following group projects: 

Production Geoscience Group Project. This is a field development training exercise which illustrates the integration of disciplines required for field appraisal and reservoir characterisation. The project is carried out by teams of 5-6 students (2-3 MSc Petroleum Geoscience, 2-3 MSc Petroleum Engineering) using an integrated dataset (seismic, wireline logs, cores, fluid pressure measurements, well tests and petrophysical data). The project integrates all the formal teaching in Term 1, and trains students to be team players in multi-disciplinary reservoir management groups.

Exploration Geoscience Group Project ('Barrel Award'). This is an exploration-based project focusing on the detailed assessment of the petroleum potential in a frontier basin. The project is carried out by teams of 4-6 students, using a grid of 2D and/or 3D seismic data collected for regional exploration, regional well data and industry-standard analogue databases. The project integrates all the formal teaching in Term 2, and trains students to be team players in exploration evaluation and regional hydrocarbon prospectivity analysis. This is a competitive exercise assessed by a panel of three external, senior geoscientists. They select the winning team, which receives the prestigious Barrel Award (an award that extends back for over 40 years).

Fieldwork-based teaching

We regard fieldwork based teaching as an integral part of Petroleum Geoscience training, and it is used to consolidate our students' understanding by illustrating classroom-taught concepts using outcrop examples.
Fieldwork-based teaching uses taken in areas of outstanding geological interest that illustrate the full breadth of petroleum geoscience. Our approach is problem based, so that students use outcrop data to help to better understand and interpret subsurface geological datasets (seismic sections, well-log panels, reservoir production datasets). Many oil companies use the same locations for fieldwork-based training, and the MSc course provides an early opportunity for our students to study the same outcrops and consider the same lessons.

Fieldwork-based training undertaken during the course includes:

  • Reservoir Characterisation, Introduction to Petroleum Systems (e.g. Wessex Basin), October
  • Faults and Fractures (e.g. Somerset), November
  • Synthesis (e.g. Spanish Pyrenees), March/April


Independent Project Work

After the exams, students undertake an independent project from early June until mid-September. The independent project is the culmination of the MSc course, and provides students with the opportunity to further their specialist knowledge in a particular area and/or to gain work experience in an oil company.

Students are expected to demonstrate independent thinking, critical and creative analysis, and sound technical judgment in their project work, and to manage both the technical analysis and time-management aspects of the project. In short, the independent project should represent the pinnacle of a student's knowledge and ability over the duration of the MSc course.

It is our aim for the majority of students to work using industry data to address industry problems and with an element of industry mentorship. Typically 70-90% of the total student body work on projects in this way, either within company offices or using Imperial College resources.

Course Assessment

Assessment of the students is based on three separate components:

  • Examinations (50% of the final marks). At the beginning of Term 3, all candidates take five 3-hour examinations on the subjects covered during the course.
  • Course Work (25% of the final marks). Certain assignments carried out during the year as course work are assessed.
  • Independent Project (25% of the final marks). The independent project is assessed by written dissertation, poster presentation and oral presentation.

Candidates achieving an overall mark of 70% and above in all three components of the course assessment will be considered for the award of a Master of Science Degree with Distinction.

Course objectives:

The programme is designed to provide:

  • basic knowledge in the key subsurface petroleum exploration & production geoscience disciplines;
  • specialist knowledge in sequence stratigraphy, sedimentology, structural geology, basin analysis, petroleum systems & reservoir geology;
  • skills in state-of-the-art technologies (e.g. 3D seismic interpretation, formation evaluation, reservoir modelling & basin modelling);
  • guidelines for the main E&P workflows (e.g. play fairway analysis, prospect evaluation, appraisal, development & reservoir management);
  • multidisciplinary and transferable skills for working within integrated subsurface evaluation teams.