Heriot Watt University (HWU) has an active and growing capacity in Applied Geoscience which sits alongside and complements its Petroleum Engineering capabilities and research. At present, the main focuses of activity are the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience which was opened in 2013 on our Edinburgh Campus and the NERC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas which the group leads on behalf of a consortium of 17 UK universities, 2 NERC research centres (The British Geological Survey and the National Oceanography Centre) and 9 industry sponsors. Both the CDT and the Shell Centre are embedded within the Applied Geoscience Unit, a component part of the Institute of Petroleum Engineering (IPE) in the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure & Society (EGIS).

NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Oil and Gas

The NERC CDT in Oil & Gas is an £11M investment by NERC, 17 UK Higher Education Institutes and 9 industry partners. It offers a unique combination of PhD research projects across the UK partnership and bespoke industry-relevant cohort training to around 30 PhD students per annual entry cohort from earth, marine and mathematical disciplines, 3 of whom are based at Heriot-Watt each year. The CDT aims to equip students not only with the skills needed to explore for and sustainably extract hydrocarbons, but also an understanding of the need for, and techniques to undertake, responsible environmental management of such activities.

The CDT is a truly game-changing initiative, which represents the most exciting development in the provision of training the energy industry in the UK that has occurred in my career.
Keith Gerdes, Chair of NERC's Advisory Board and previous American Association of Petroleum Geologists' European Region President
This unique collaborative venture is creating a network of highly skilled scientists who will become the thought leaders of the future and innovations that will enhance the opportunities available for the industry and help to support energy security in the spirit of MER UK
Colin Oswald, Head of Research Partnerships at Total Exploration & Production UK

The Shell Centre

The Shell Centre was inaugurated in 2013 and represents a 5-year £3M investment by the company and is administered under a joint agreement between the University and Royal Dutch Shell. The Centre is housed within the Wouter Hoogeveen Lab and currently supports 3 PhD and 2 PDRA positions in Applied Geoscience. The Centre's main research themes are in regional geology, the structural development and evolution of sedimentary basins, subsurface mapping and field geology. It benefits from state-of the art seismic interpretation facilities and access to high-fidelity regional subsurface datasets which are calibrated and supplemented by additional data from boreholes, gravity and magnetics, geochemistry, sedimentology, biostratigraphy, apatite fission track analysis etc. The research undertaken in the Centre provides a key input to both academia, through publication and presentation of results, and industry by enhancing the understanding of prospective basins currently under exploration for oil and gas.

  • Tectonostratigraphic evolution of the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Formation and Development of the Tanzanian passive continental margin
  • Temporal Evolution of the Peri-Adriatic region
  • The Tectono-stratigraphic evolution of the Central Mediterranean
  • Stratigraphic Traps in Extensional Systems
  • Field and Subsurface Geology in Compressional Systems
  • Use of 3D seismic volumes to evaluate the nature, timing and implications of structural deformation in the Inner Moray Firth
  • Geophysical detection of dyke and sill complexes: implications for prospectivity
  • Unravelling the structural controls and consequent feedbacks on Permian and Mesozoic depositional systems in the Southern North Sea
  • Evaluating the role that structural inheritance and crustal heterogeneity plays in controlling the evolution of prospective basins of the North Sea
  • Controls on and consequences of punctuated subsidence and structural inversion along passive margins
  • The Structure and Petroleum Systems of the Dreki Area, Jan Mayen Microcontinent, offshore Iceland
  • Evaluating the Geological Structure and Hydrocarbon Prospectivity of the Western Platform and Mid North Sea High areas of the Central North Sea
  • Development and Evolution of the Flamborough Head Disturbance
  • Ogilvie Gordon 3D Audio-Visualisation (OGA) Suite

Areas of Expertise

  • Structural development and evolution of sedimentary basins
  • Subsurface mapping
  • Field geology
  • Seismic and Sequence Stratigraphy
  • Extending the Life of Mature Basins (e.g. North Sea)
  • Exploration in Frontier Basins and Challenging Environments
  • Near Field Exploration (NFE)
  • Forensic geoscience for carbon storage site investigations

Research Impact

The NERC CDT addresses the current energy and hydrocarbon challenges facing the world's populations in the 21st century as well as preparing the next generation of scientists by creating a highly skilled workforce with expertise that can be used across the wider energy and environmental sectors, be that in industry, academia and public organisations. Colin Oswald, Head of Research Partnerships at Total Exploration & Production UK commented after the CDT's 2nd Annual Conference in November 2016 "The 2nd Annual Conference was an excellent opportunity to see all the CDT students together. The student presentations and posters testified to the quality of the leading edge research and the energy and enthusiasm of the students, academic partners and industrial sponsors. This unique collaborative venture is creating a network of highly skilled scientists who will become the thought leaders of the future and innovations that will enhance the opportunities available for the industry and help to support energy security in the spirit of MER UK".

The research undertaken in Applied Geoscience at Heriot Watt achieves academic and business impact through publication/presentation and input into industry/government policies. The Shell Centre has produced several conference presentations and regular technical reviews. Several projects such as in offshore Northern Tanzania, the Croatian Adriatic, offshore Namibia and the SE Mediterranean, represent underexplored regions and some of the first large scale, data-rich studies to be performed in these regions.