The course

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Our Masters in Subsurface Energy Systems delivers the key concepts of subsurface energy and CO2 storage, geothermal energy or transitional gas and integrates geoscience, engineering, political and societal aspects important for large scale implementation of these technologies. The programme is recommended for Geoscientists, Petroleum Engineers, and Governmental Stakeholders and beyond such that they can participate in the management of subsurface reservoirs used to switch from a fossil fuel driven to a decarbonised economy.

This degree is delivered by The Lyell Centre and the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering committed to delivering research and training courses that meet the needs of the international subsurface energy industry.

The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts serious consequences from further emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, thereby accelerating man-made climate change. A maximum of 2°C of global temperature increase is targeted, with a strong ambition to not exceed an increase of 1.5°C. This requires drastic reductions in our CO2 emissions. Part of this decrease in emissions from fossil fuel combustion and other sources comes from promoting other energy sources, like renewable energies (i.e. wind, solar, hydro, geothermal energies) or from an increase in the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS). Surface renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydro can readily be used in the form of electrical power if sufficient capacities are installed and natural conditions are favourable enough to be economic. Installed capacities within the UK increased from about 5 GW in 2005 to about 30 GW in 2015 with an outlook of further drastic increase in capacities. In case of overproduction, electricity can be stored in grids or batteries at limited capacity. As part of a Geoenergy application, these energies will be stored in the subsurface after conversion to e.g. hydrogen, thermal energy, or compressed air until needed, allowing for back-production within short and longer time scales of hours to years.

CCS overlaps with such storage sites, but with the aim of permanent storage. The UK, especially Scotland, is an attractive target for CCS implementation and is considered to significantly extend the lifetime of oil and gas reservoirs, thereby strengthening the related industrial sectors. The combined technologies of geothermal energy production, subsurface energy storage or CCS refer to the geoengineering aspects of Subsurface Energy Systems (SES). In this context, SES rather refers to the integration of Geoenergy applications with energy production at the surface as well as economic, societal and policy aspects.

There is a significant demand globally for research and training in these technologies, given that many small and large integrated oil and gas companies are decarbonising their assets which, at the same time, needs to be monitored and regulated by governmental bodies. Councils across the UK and Europe are increasingly looking at the subsurface for storing or producing energy.

Programme duration

Full-time: 1 year

Industry links

A number of courses are related to the application of learning in the upstream petroleum industry. Other courses specifically address aspects not currently covered in the petroleum industry in great detail (e.g. geothermal, energy storage). The aims of the Programme are to make aware and enhance the skills related to professional engineering and geoscience and related scientific methods.

Students on the Subsurface Energy Systems MSc will benefit from the excellent links with industry and research activities by staff at the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering and The Lyell Centre. The Institute also has an industry-based Strategic Advisory Board who monitors activities in the wider context of the needs of the industry and offer guidance on the course ensuring content is up to date and relevant to current industry needs. Seminar sessions are also conducted by staff from a variety of petroleum engineering companies. 

Detailed course information

Course content

Detailed course guide

The MSc in Subsurface Energy Systems contains lectures and project work, encompassing a wide range of subsurface geoscience and engineering fundamentals, relevant to the current petroleum, subsurface storage or geothermal industry.

Project work provides an opportunity for ideas and methods, assimilated through lectures and tutorials, to be applied to real field evaluation and development design problems. The courses on this MSc are applied in nature and have been specifically designed so that our students are technically well prepared for, and have a sound knowledge of, the industry. The program involves 10 compulsory courses:

1. Subsurface gas storage

  • Understand the concepts and principles of renewable energy production and how they fit in the global energy market
  • Obtain a solid understanding of carbon emissions from industrial sources in the context of climate change subsurface 
  • Understand the concept of intermittent gas storage (natural gas, hydrogen, compressed air) to compensate for temporary energy overproduction from either renewables or transitional gas
  • Understand the concept of carbon capture and storage: capacities, seal/wellbore integrity, fluid transport and projects worldwide

2. Transitional Gas

  • Understand the principles of petroleum systems, from source rock maturation to gas migration and accumulation
  • Obtain a solid understanding of the petrophysics, reservoir engineering and geochemical processes in conventional and unconventional (shale, coal) reservoirs
  • Understand environmental risks related to unconventional reservoir production with respect to groundwater contamination, and induced seismicity

3. Reservoir Characterisation

  • Understand geological controls on reservoir properties and performance
  • Be able to assess key reservoir parameters
  • Understand how geological reservoirs develop in a basin setting, how reservoir properties are characterised and how these change with diagenesis

4. Geothermal Energy

  • Understand the principles of low and high enthalpy geothermal, their geological frameworks and potential for exploitation
  • Understand the challenges of producing geothermal reservoirs, heat transfer, flow processes, geomechanics and potential earthquake risks
  • Understand geochemical principles when producing such reservoirs and how to manage coupled thermal-hydro-chemical-mechanical processes
  • Obtain a high level understanding of the economics of such reservoirs in the context of decarbonisation the energy sector

5. Reservoir Geomechanics

  • understand how the fundamental principles of geomechanics predicts compaction, folding, faulting and fracturing as well as induced seismicity on the basin to the reservoir scale

6. Fluid Mechanics, Reactive Transport and Heat Flow

  • Understand and quantify the movement of fluids (brine, oil, gas) in the subsurface over timescales ranging from geological to human
  • Understand how fluid interact chemically with the rock and impact reservoir behaviour
  • Understand how heat is transported in the subsurface
  • Understand how processes can be modelled to impact reservoir management decisions

7. Economy, Policy and Risks

  • Detail the economic context of CCS, renewable and geothermal energy, as well as transitional gas
  • Provide an understanding of policy making in the context of IPCC, Paris Agreement and national regulations
  • Provide an overview and basis for discussion about public perception of these new energies and energy concepts
  • Help understanding the technical, economic, operational and political risks associated with each of the technologies discussed

8. Reservoir Geophysics and Reservoir Monitoring

  • Introduce Geophysical methods for reservoir exploration and production
  • Focus on reflection seismic methods (2D and 3D)
  • Review reflection seismic interpretation techniques and applications
  • Understand reservoir monitoring tools for the long term observation of reservoir leakage 

9. Group project 
Groups of about 10 students are provided with real data from a field (CO2/energy storage or geothermal energy/natural gas production), similar to that which would be available to an Operator prior to a development decision. Analysis of this data results in an assessment of the reservoir and leads to the design of an appropriate production or storage strategy. Through this exercise, students gain valuable insight into the use of imperfect and incomplete data, to the integration of the various taught components of the course and to problems of group interaction. It will also provide the basis for in-depth discussion of the regulatory, economic and societal challenges related to these technologies and will allow to teach a range of transferable skills such as teamwork, presentation and negotiation.

During the project students have access to state-of-the-art computer technology and industry standard software. Assessment is by means of a written report and by group presentation.

10. Individual project 
Students are required to carry out a detailed investigation of some topic related to subsurface geoscience or engineering. Projects are offered both by the Institute and by the industry, and normally include a wide choice of experimental research, computer modelling and real-world problems. Assessment is by means of both thesis and oral presentation.

Entry requirements

Masters (MSc) level entry applicants must have one of the following:

  • Minimum of 2:2 honours degree or equivalent academic qualification in a related subject area
  • For postgraduate conversion courses, non-related degrees will be considered
  • Corporate (or chartered) membership of relevant professional institutions will also be considered

Candidates who do not meet the above entry requirements or have no formal academic qualifications will be considered individually based on their CV and possibly interview. Admission via this route will be at the discretion of the Director of Recruitment.

Recognition of Prior Learning

Heriot-Watt University is committed to providing opportunities to applicants who have a wide range of prior experiences through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Prior learning at postgraduate level is normally recognised to gain exemption from individual courses within a course based on an existing academic qualification. Note that the prior learning must have been rated at the level of the courses for which RPL is sought, yet credits from an award already held by an applicant can only contribute to a higher award in the same discipline, e.g. from PG Diploma to MSc. If you believe that you qualify for RPL, please contact the Learning and Teaching Support Team via, who will guide you through the RPL application procedure.

The school will only consider students' requests for RPL at the time of application for their course of study.

English language requirements

If English is not the applicant’s first language a minimum of IELTS 6.5 or equivalent is required with all elements passed at 6.0 or above. Please refer to English language requirements for further details.

Some applicants may be asked for alternative evidence in line with UKVI recognised English speaking countries. Applicants who have previously successfully completed courses delivered in the medium of English language may be considered and will be required to provide documentary evidence of this. Examples would be secondary school education or undergraduate degree. A minimum of at least one year of full time study (or equivalent) in the medium of English language will be required.

All evidence of English language needs to be dated within two years of the commencement of study.

We also offer a range of English language courses to help you meet the English language requirement prior to starting your master’s programme:

  • 14 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with no more than one skill at 4.5)
  • 10 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with minimum of 5.0 in all skills)
  • 6 weeks English (for IELTS 5.5 with minimum of 5.5 in reading and writing and minimum of 5.0 in speaking and listening)


Tuition fees for 2020 entry (by residency status)
Status* Full-time
Scotland / Non-UK EU £13440
England / Northern Ireland / Wales £13440
Overseas £28440

* If you are unsure which category you fall in to, you should complete a fee status enquiry form, which allows us to assess your fees.

Scholarships and bursaries

We aim to encourage well-qualified, ambitious students to study with us and we offer a wide variety of scholarships and bursaries to achieve this. Over £6 million worth of opportunities are available in fee and stipend scholarships, and more than 400 students benefit from this support.

View our full range of postgraduate scholarships.