Study Petroleum Geoscience

Petroleum Geoscience covers a broad range of subjects; geology, geochemistry, geophysics, and also integrates with Petroleum Engineering and Chemical Engineering.In the UK, Petroleum Geoscience courses are offered by a number of leading universities at masters (MSc) level, normally within Earth Science or Geological Science Departments.

Study Petroleum Geoscience


Why is Petroleum Geoscience important?

The global demand for hydrocarbons is huge, with the world consuming over 80 million barrels a day, a staggering 30 billion barrels a year. To put that in perspective, a giant oil field is anything bigger than 500 million barrels, and giants are becoming harder and harder to find. The majority were found in the 1960s and 70s and since then the discovery rate has fallen year by year. But we are consuming the equivalent of 60 giant oil fields a year! Proven world oil reserves are just over 1400 billion barrels, which means that we have just over 45 years of known oil to produce at current rates. But demand is expected to increase as developing countries industrialize, so the challenge is to find more oil and gas to meet this insatiable demand.

What do Petroleum Geoscientists do?

The role of unlocking the world’s remaining hydrocarbon resources, both the traditional “conventional black oil” and also new sources, such as oil shales, very heavy oil or coal bed methane, is lead by geoscientists. Petroleum Geoscientists are key players in exploration for all these new potential hydrocarbon reserves, and also in the drive to maximise recovery from those oil and gas fields already discovered. They are involved at all stages: from “new venture”, assessing regional data to focus in on the most prospective countries and basins, to the ultimate test, drilling the wells.

A key role is acquiring the best possible data to image the subsurface, either seismic data (imaging the rock units 2-4 km below the ground), or undertaking geochemical, gravity or magnetic surveys. This may also involve fieldwork to examine the rocks that crop out onshore. And then having acquired the geological information, petroleum geoscientists interpreted the data using the latest software to produce 3D subsurface models, and eventually select the optimum locations to drill a well. Future oil reserves will be found in challenging high cost environments, that require the most innovative technology to explore.

Whether it’s in deepwater offshore west Africa, drilling in 3km of water and to depths of 4 or 5km below the sea bed, or in the cold barren wastes of the Arctic, it is geoscientists that lead the exploration effort. To locate hydrocarbons in the subsurface requires integrated teams that model the distribution of reservoirs and source rocks and then locate the traps that may contain the oil. It’s a big high cost game, with wells costing in remote areas in excess of 100 million dollars. There is no guarantee of success, and many wells fail (just produce water!) but if large oil and gas reserves are found, the so called “elephants” that all companies are searching for, there are big rewards.

Demand for Petroleum Geoscientists

It is the job of a geoscientist to reduce the exploration risk by improving understanding of the rocks and fluids in the subsurface. To do this means that oil companies need the best geoscientist, and as the task of exploration gets harder, so the need for petroleum geoscientists grows. Add to this a rapidly aging workforce in most of the multinational oil companies, and the result is an ever growing demand for petroleum geoscientists and engineers. It’s a global market, and the big players, some of the biggest companies in the world, such as ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron Texaco, Total, ENI, recruit internationally. But as well as these integrated oil companies, there are a huge number of large medium and small oil companies, and consultancies and service companies, that all employ geoscientists. In the UK alone hundreds of companies are involved in oil and gas exploration employing petroleum geoscientists.

Petroleum Geoscience courses

The UK, the home of geology and with a long tradition of producing some of the world’s finest geoscientists, has world class universities that play a major role in training the next generation of petroleum geoscientists. A number of 12 month master courses (MScs) are offered, some providing a broad training and other more specialised. For most companies the minimum entry requirement into a geoscience career is an MSc or PhD. These MSc offer a mix of academic and vocational training, and are continually adapting to the changing global market. Most of these courses are supported by the oil industry, with scholarships, internships and the opportunities to undertake research project in the company office and using their data. Companies recruit at the Universities, and employment rates are normally very good.

So why chose Petroleum Geoscience?

Chose it if you want a rewarding career that will take you to the corners of the globe, from the deserts of the Sahara to the icy wastes of the Arctic. A career that will put you at the forefront of technology to image the subsurface, using the latest computing power. A career that is varied and exciting and allows you to work in multidisciplinary teams. A well paid career, petroleum geoscientists are among the top earners in geoscience and engineering, and graduates can expect high salaries on joining an oil company, with many added benefits. And although the oil industry is very cyclical, as the oil price goes up and down, and during price falls jobs are shed and times can be more difficult, for geoscientists with the best training and good qualifications, the future is very bright. We are in a world that needs oil and gas and that demand is set to rise and rise. Despite all the talk of renewables and nuclear energy, in the next 50 years (our generation, and probably the next), we will still rely on oil and gas as the major energy resource and most important chemical base, and it is Petroleum Geoscience that is called upon to deliver that oil to the market.

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