Petroleum Geoscience (MSc and PG Dip)


Study for a prestigious MSc in Petroleum Geoscience by distance learning

Primarily suited to hydrocarbon industry professionals who wish to further develop their knowledge and skills while working, this online version of the well-established Royal Holloway MSc course has an international reputation for excellence in the petroleum industry.

Finding new reserves is becoming ever more challenging and the enhanced recovery of reserves from existing fields is becoming increasingly important. Well-trained Petroleum Geoscientists with the ability to integrate geological and geophysical data, and to apply it on a variety of scales, have a vital role to play.

This MSc in Petroleum Geoscience provides training in the practical and technical skills to address a range of exploration and production challenges, from predicting the likely distribution of hydrocarbons in a frontier sedimentary basin, to quantifying the complex structural, stratigraphic and sedimentological architecture of individual reservoirs.

Royal Holloway, University of London is one of the leading centres for Earth Science research in the UK. It has excellent links with the international oil industry and a strong programme of industry-funded petroleum geology research, which ensures that this Masters is up-to-date, focused and commercially relevant.

Royal Holloway staff provide tutorial support for each module, plus guidance for your dissertation and for project work, which is based on industry data.

Features of the programme

  • Comprehensive learning materials delivered via a dedicated web portal: video clips, animations, audiovisual presentations, fully illustrated manuals, self-assessment quizzes, exercises and computer-based practicals including examples of subsurface data such as seismic and well-log data
  • A field trip and intensive study seminars held in the UK as part of the final module on the course
  • Option to be awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Petroleum Geoscience if you choose not to undertake the project.

Course summary

Programme You study Study period Cost (2015-2016)
MSc 6 modules + project 2-5 years £13,295
Postgraduate Diploma 6 modules 2-5 years £10,925


The programme has been developed by academics within the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway using the material and experience from the campus-based Petroleum Geoscience MSc course that has been running since 1985. The Royal Holloway Earth Sciences Department achieved an 'excellence' rating for teaching quality and 70% of our research was graded as world-leading or internationally excellent in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.

Career progression

Many graduates of the campus-based MSc are now well-established, successful industry professionals with careers ranging from national oil companies to geoscience IT and consultancy to academia.

Your time commitment

This course is offered online with each module running with tutor support for a three month period during the academic year, and available the rest of the time for preview and revision. This online structure enables you to fit your studies around work and family commitments. To complete an MSc in a three year period you will need to study an average of 20 hours per week during the academic session.

Excellent support

Fully supported by a Virtual Learning Environment, you will have the opportunity for interaction with online tutors to discuss course material and exercises; a virtual student cafe allows you to interact and network with other students.

Summary of key dates

Petroleum Geoscience
Application deadline 1 September
Registration deadline 1 October
Course starts October
Examinations take place Early June



Structure and Syllabus

MSc: 6 compulsory core modules plus the independent research project
PG Dip: 6 compulsory core modules

Six core modules

Tectonics and lithosphere dynamics

The course comprises three modules. The first introduces students to modern plate tectonic theory and our understanding plate tectonic processes based on earthquake data, tomography, gravity and magnetics. The second part of the course applies that to different tectonic settings and examines how our understanding of the mechanical properties of plates can be applied to understanding deformation, subsidence and heat flow. The third part of the course examines different terranes through the interpretation of remote sensed imagery and includes training in the use of GIS systems as a tool for such interpretation, as well as the broader use of GIS systems in compiling geological databases.

Geophysical analysis

The course comprises three modules. The first module covers the principles of seismic wave theory, the various steps involved in the processing of seismic data and the limitations of the technique in terms of imaging the subsurface. The second module is an introduction to seismic interpretation and covers the basics of horizon and fault correlation, tying seismic data to well data, 2D and 3D interpretation methodologies. The third week focuses on horizon processing, attribute analysis and amplitude analysis, including an introduction to AVO. The second and third modules both involve considerable workstation based practical exercises.

Structural analysis

The course comprises three modules. The study of large scale structures found in sedimentary basins comprises the focus of the first two weeks where students are introduced to the types of structures found in different structural settings through a combination of learning materials and the interpretation of seismic data and remotely sensed imagery. The third module involves an introduction to the theory of section balancing and structural restoration techniques and their practical application using a combination of paper based and workstation based exercises.

Sedimentology and stratigraphy

The course comprises three modules. The first examines clastic sedimentary systems in terms of processes and different depositional environments. The second examines carbonate sedimentary systems and the application of sequence stratigraphy to the understanding of carbonate platforms and ramps. The third introduces the principles of stratigraphy and develops a thorough understanding of sequence stratigraphic concepts in clastic systems.

Reservoir geoscience

The course comprises three modules. The first two are primarily concerned with the qualitative and quantitative interpretation of data obtained from commonly used well logging techniques (gamma ray, calliper, SP, sonic, density, neutron, resistivity, dip meter and image logs tools) and their use to determine the lithological and petrophysical characteristics of hydrocarbon reservoirs. The third involves the study of rock physics and rock mechanics, the former to integrate well log data with seismic data to study the geophysical characterisation of reservoirs using AVO and seismic inversion techniques, as well as the modelling of potential AVO responses.

Petroleum systems

The course comprises four week-long modules. The first week introduces the concept of petroleum systems, and places particular emphasis on understanding source rocks and hydrocarbon generation in the context of basin evolution. The second week moves to the analysis of individual prospects, looking at seals, trap formation, play analysis, prospect risking and economic analysis. The final two weeks give students (working in teams) the opportunity to apply these concepts to case studies based on industry data – first of all in a series of shorter practical exercises looking at petroleum systems in a number of different tectonic settings and finally through a more in-depth analysis of individual data sets.

The Petroleum Systems module includes fieldwork. This involves 14 days of face-to-face fieldwork incorporating group work and academic lectures.

Independent research project (MSc only)

Independent research project

The module is research-based, but involves individual reviews of project proposals with supervisors, regular review consultations with supervisors, progress reports to supervisors,and individual supervision as required. Students are required to produce a report of 10,000-15,000 words. To do the project an applicant must be employed in the industry or be able to demonstrate adequate support from a company for access to material and facilities for the project work.

Petroleum systems includes fieldwork.

Study materials

How you study

Comprehensive learning materials are delivered via a dedicated web portal. These include video clips, animations, audiovisual presentations, fully illustrated manuals, self-assessment quizzes, exercises and computer-based practicals.

When you register we will also provide:

  • a core textbook for certain modules
  • a Student Handbook which includes practical advice on how to study, how to access and use the online learning facility, and how to progress through the degree
  • login details for the student portal where you will be able to access the virtual learning environment
  • email account, student registration card and other resources.

Virtual Learning Environment

You will be given access to the Virtual Learning Environment when you register. The VLE allows you to:

  • access your course materials
  • take part in discussions with your tutor and other students as shown in the course schedule [PDF 1pg 139KB]
  • receive notices, seminar dates, project support and other programme-related information
  • ask questions regarding the administration of the programme
  • seek help for technical problems that you encounter.

Time commitment

It is difficult to be precise about how many hours you will need to spend studying to complete the course because individuals differ in their speed of learning and in the expertise that they already have. However a reasonable expectation for study and exam preparation would be around 200 hours for each module.

If you aim to complete the MSc or PG Diploma and take two taught modules per academic year you should expect to spend around 20 hours per week from October to March studying module material and completing coursework, and then a similar amount of time up until early June preparing for exams.

If you aim to complete the MSc in two or three years [PDF 1pg 145KB], the time required per week will be substantially higher. If you want to take more than three years to complete the course you should still aim to spend 20 hours a week when a module is running, but obviously you may have periods during the academic year when you are not studying any modules.



The fees below refer to the 2015-2016 academic year only and are effective from 1 March 2015 until 30 November 2015. Fees are subject to annual review. 

Registration fee£ 1,535
Fee per module (except the Project)£ 1,565
Project fee (MSc only)£ 2,370
Total Postgraduate Diploma£ 10,925
Total MSc*£ 13,295
Total per Individual module (taken on a stand-alone basis)£ 1,950
ConvertGBP x 1

Disclaimer: the currency conversion tool is provided to you for convenience only and does not constitute an endorsement or approval by the University of London; the exchange rates are provided dynamically via a third-party source, consequently, the University of London International Programmes is not responsible for their accuracy.

*please also note the other costs for module PGM651 Petroleum Systems.

When to pay

Fees may be paid in one of two ways:

  • Either pay the total fee on registration by making a single payment, this covers the registration fee and all module fees.
  • Or if you prefer to spread out your payments, pay the registration fee plus the fee for each module you want to take in the first year, and then in following years pay the fee for each new module you take.

How to pay

All University fees must be paid in pounds sterling (GBP). The University accepts:

  • Western Union - Quick Pay
  • Credit/debit card (Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, Electron, JCB)
  • Sterling banker's draft/cheque
  • International money/postal order

Further details are given in payment methods.

Other costs

In addition to the fees payable to the University, you should also budget for:

  • the fee charged by your local examination centre to cover its costs; this fee will vary.
  • the costs associated with module PGM651 Petroleum Systems; there is a compulsory residential school session at Royal Holloway and a field trip in southern England. You must cover transport and accommodation costs, in the order of 900 GBP, plus the cost of your flight to get to the UK if you are overseas.


The University reserves the right to amend previously announced fees, if necessary. For a full list fees that may be applicable, please see the fee schedule.



Each module, with the exception of the Project, will be assessed by one two-hour unseen written paper (80%) and one or more individual assignments (20%). The Project will be assessed by means of a project report (100%).

Examinations by written paper usually take place in June each year. We have exam centres in over 180 countries worldwide, so you can sit your examinations wherever is most convenient (please see our Assessment and examinations section for further details).


Academic Requirements

Summary of the entrance requirements:

  • An undergraduate degree (e.g. bachelor) which is considered at least comparable to a UK second class honours degree, in a physical science subject, preferably but not necessarily related to geoscience. The degree must be awarded from an institution acceptable to the University. An upper second class degree equivalent is beneficial but not essential if you have work experience in the oil and gas industry.
  • Work experience in the oil and gas industry, preferably carrying out evaluation of conventional and/or unconventional petroleum systems, but any technical oil and gas related work will be considered. Sufficient relevant work experience may be considered to replace the requirement for a second class honours degree qualification in geoscience; cases are considered on an individual basis
  • Applicants for the MSc must demonstrate that they have access to interpretation software, data and local expert supervision before they can register for and complete the research project module PGM051 necessary to complete the MSc. Usually this means applicants should be currently in employment with an oil and gas company, but exceptions can be made for students who can arrange data, software and supervision by other means.
  • You do not need to be currently in employment within the oil and gas industry to complete the six taught modules. Successful completion of these modules is sufficient to qualify for a PG Diploma.

English language

You will meet the English language requirement if you have passed, within the past three years
  • (IELTS) International English Language Testing System when an overall score of at least 6.5 is achieved with a minimum of 6.0 in each sub-test
  • (TOEFL) iBT Test of English as a Foreign Language overall score of 92 or above with at least 22 in both Reading and Writing Skills sub-tests and at least 20 in both Speaking and Listening sub-tests.

IT requirements

To study these programmes you need a computer with consistant access to the internet to use the University of London International Programmes website and the Student Portal. These are where your programme’s study resources are located. Through the Student Portal you can register as a student, enter exams and use your programme’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The VLE provides you with electronic learning materials, access to the University of London Online Library, networking opportunities, and other resources.

The minimum computer specification is a 133Mhz, Pentium PC (266 Mhz recommended) or equivalent running Windows 98 or later; 32MB RAM; screen resolution 800x600 colour or higher; CD-ROM Drive, Sound Card and speakers (or G3 Macs and later running at least Mac OS 7.0). The computer should have at least 1GB of free hard disk space. You will also need the following software:

  • Internet Explorer version 6 or above, JavaScript and cookie-enabled (Mac users will need the latest version of Safari)
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader 6 or above
  • QuickTime 6.0 or above
  • Flash plug-in
  • Anti-virus software
  • Microsoft Office 98 or higher (Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Access).

For the independent research project (necessary to complete the MSc), different computing specifications may be required. In such cases, the specific requirements will be discussed with the project supervisor at the project design stage. Applicants for the MSc must demonstrate that they have access to interpretation software, data and local expert supervision before they can register for and complete the independent research project module. Usually this means applicants should be currently in employment with an oil and gas company, but exceptions can be made for students who can arrange data, software and supervision by other means.


Royal Holloway - Department of Earth Sciences

Royal Holloway is one of the leading international centres for petroleum geoscience training and research.

The MSc Petroleum Geoscience is recognised around the world as one of the premier training courses for people starting out on careers in the hydrocarbon industry. Our excellent links with the international oil industry, combined with high quality teaching and research facilities make the Royal Holloway MSc an ideal option if you are a recent graduate looking for a focused, vocational training course, or if you are an early career professional wishing to enhance your career development.

This course is taught by 11 staff with extensive industry and academic experience.

Academic leaders

David Waltham

Programme director with 30 years academic and industry experience in seismic exploration and computer modelling of geological processes.

Jürgen Adam

Structural geology expert with particular interests in salt tectonics, passive-margins and scaled modelling of structures.

Professor Peter Burgess

10 years’ experience as a petroleum geologist working in industry and 10 years’ experience researching and teaching sedimentary and petroleum geology.

Agust Gudmundsson

Extensive experience in field, analytical, statistical, and numerical studies of volcanotectonic and seismotectonic processes, as well as of conventional and unconventional fractured reservoirs.

Sawata Heir-Majumder

A senior lecturer in geophysics whose primary area of interest is computational solid Earth geophysics.

Javier Hernandez-Molina

Specialist in Basin Analysis and Sedimentary Geology, including sedimentary processes and seismic & sequence stratigraphic analysis, with a  special interest in deep-water sedimentary processes.

Jason Morgan

Geodynamics and marine geophysics with a special interest in the dynamics of the rifting and subsequent evolution of passive margins.

Marta Pérez-Gussinyé

Geodynamics and tectonic modelling with a special interest in rifting and the formation of volcanic and non-volcanic margins.

Nicola Scarselli

Seismic interpretation researcher with 7 years’ experience and a particular interest in tectonics & sedimentation at passive margins.

Ian Watkinson

Structural analysis course leader with research interests on the major faults of SE Asia, neotectonics and palaeoseismology, ductile shear zones, thermochronology and exhumation of metamorphic terranes.

Apply online

Read blog posts from a Petroleum Geoscience student.

MSc Petroleum Geoscience Field Trip Overview

Each year, our distance learning MSc Petroleum Geoscience students come to England to participate in 14 days of face-to-face fieldwork, including academic lectures on campus at Royal Holloway, University of London, and a field trip around the coasts of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset.

Alumni Inspiration: Victor Adeleke, MSc Petroleum Geoscience, Nigeria

Victor Adeleke studied for his MSc Petroleum Geoscience via distance learning in Nigeria. He speaks about how the Masters will help in his career as a geoscientist.