School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences

Petroleum Geoscience

Maui A oil rig

Maui A oil rig platform. Photo courtesy of Maui field operator Shell Todd Oil Services.

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Victoria University and GNS Science offer a unique programme in Petroleum Geoscience.

The School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences has an excellent record in teaching and research in a wide variety of geological, geophysical and geochemical areas. New Zealand’s unique petroleum systems are complex and provide a unique training ground for the petroleum geoscientist.

GNS staff provide extensive commercial services to the domestic and international petroleum industry as well conducting world class applied research programmes in petroleum geology. They have strengths in basin evolution, seismic technology and petroleum system analysis using leading-edge software.

Students can complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Science or Master of Science (MSc) in Petroleum Geoscience, which take one or two years respectively.

Graduates of the programme will have extensive knowledge of the latest techniques used in hydrocarbon exploration. They will also have first hand experience in working with the petroleum industry.

For more information, please contact:

James Crampton

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About the Programme

The Masters programme comprises two parts and is normally completed in two calendar years.

Part 1 (the first year) involves course work and a research preparation course.

Part 2 (the second year) is a full-time research project in conjunction with GNS Science or a petroleum company. This project is written up as a thesis.

Since the Masters programme is tailored towards applied problems in petroleum exploration and production, collaboration with the petroleum industry is seen as a vital part of project selection and students are encouraged to work with multi-disciplinary teams on exploration challenges.


Masters candidates should have previously completed a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree with an average grade of B+ or higher in their 300 level papers. Demonstrated strengths in stratigraphy, structure and geophysics are encouraged. 

Prospective students must also obtain a recommendation from a potential project supervisor before enrolment.  All candidates are subject to approval by the Convenor of the Geology/Earth Sciences Board of Studies.

There is no automatic transition from Masters Part 1 to Part 2. Students require a grade average of B+ in their Part 1 courses. Students with a lower grade average will need to discuss their options with the Programme Director, and they may be redirected into a suitable postgraduate diploma programme.

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Course Requirements

All courses are worth 15 points.

Part 1

  • PGEO 401 - Basin Analysis
  • PGEO 511 - Technical Petroleum Geoscience
  • PGEO 580 - Research and Research Preparation (taught jointly with ESCI and GPHS 580)
  • ESCI 403 - Stratigraphy and Sedimentology
  • ESCI 406 - Petroleum Geology
  • ESCI 407 - Global Tectonics
  • ESCI 411 - Exploration Geophysics
  • 15 additional points from a course approved by the Programme Director

PGEO 401 and 511 courses are specific to petroleum geoscience and are taught by staff from the hydrocarbons group at GNS Science.

Part 2

PGEO 591 - Thesis


Demand for petroleum geoscientists remains high. A Masters qualification is generally regarded as the minimum requirement for entry to a job in this area. 

Since the course began in 2006, it has produced a number of well qualified students.   

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Student Profiles

Sarah Grain

Sarah working with a colleague in Western Australia.

Petroleum Geoscience continues to fascinate me as it involves the integration of many sub-disciplines in geoscience, which include sedimentology, stratigraphy, structural geology, geophysics and organic geochemistry.

I completed my MSc in Petroleum Geoscience at the end of 2008, and already had a job offer 6 months prior to finishing.

My Masters research used regional seismic interpretation, well log and core analysis to provide a detailed palaeogeographic interpretation of Mid Miocene turbidites in the Taranaki Basin. The project attracted much attention from local oil companies as well as internationally when I presented my work at an American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) conference in Rio de Janiero.

I am currently working for Woodside Energy, the main oil and gas production operation in Western Australia. Their graduate programme consists of three rotations over three years through different parts of the geoscience business, with a significant emphasis on training. In my current role, I use skills gained from my Masters on a daily basis.

Read Sarah's Masters thesis abstract.

Thomas Golding

Thomas aboard the RV Sonne, March 2011

Thomas aboard the RV Sonne, March 2011.

Thomas Goldings life aspiration was to pursue a career in the energy industry.

Thomas completed his Masters in Petroleum Geoscience at the beginning of the year and has since moved to Perth begin his role as a graduate exploration geoscientist at Shell Development Australia.

The field of gas hydrates research greatly appealed to Thomas as he believed that hydrates have the potential to be a globally significant source of methane - the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon. In addition, technology is being developed to sequester CO2 while producing methane from hydrates, which could make gas hydrates a carbon-neutral energy source.

"Gas hydrates could represent a substantial and environmentally responsible future global energy source", says Thomas.

Thomas' research contributed to peoples understanding of the gas hydrate system and could guide responsible decisions about how to develop gas hydrates as an energy source.

"My research involved using multibeam sonar backscatter and high-resolution 3D seismic reflection data to characterise seafloor methane vent sites at Omakere Ridge, offshore Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

"These vent sites are linked to the extensive Hikurangi Margin gas hydrate province. Gas migrates through the gas hydrate stability zone and seeps into the water column at the vent sites.

"The goal of Thomas' research was to compare the sonar backscatter and 3D seismic data characteristics of the vent sites. My research will be linked to subsurface studies at Omakere Ridge to help understand more about how the gas hydrate system works", explaind Thomas.

Thomas thought that one of the highlights of his degree was taking part in a scientific cruise aboard the German research vessel, the RV Sonne, in March and April 2011. During this trip his data were collected and the initial processing was carried out.

In addition to his undergraduate studies at VUW in Geophysics and Geology, Thomas believes that the course has provided him with the ideal training and practical experience to achieve his career goals.

Thomas was lucky enough to complete an internship at Shell Todd Energy Services Ltd. in New Plymouth and a summer research scholarship at GNS Science. He also took up a geophysics intern position at Woodside Energy in Perth, Australia.

"I found the MSc course challenging and stimulating says Thomas and every week reflected upon the new skills I had acquired and the knowledge I had gained", says Thomas.