MSc Subsurface Energy Systems

The course

Course type
Entry date
Podcast series: A Future Made

Nature-based solutions

In the first episode of ‘A Future Made’, Anna Ploszajski and Robbie Armstrong join Professor Bill Sanderson and Professor Lindsay Beevers, sampling oysters and pondering flooding solutions.


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At Heriot Watt, we are delivering a new MSc programme in Subsurface Energy Systems (SES) that will educate you about unlocking energy resources with a low carbon footprint. This will be a stepping stone for your career in industry, government, non-government organisations (NGOs) or academia.

The programme addresses key concepts in subsurface energy and CO2 storage, geothermal energy or transitional gas while integrating geoscience, engineering, political and societal aspects. It will appeal to geoscientists, reservoir engineers, governmental stakeholders and all those interested in the management of subsurface reservoirs used to switch from a fossil fuel-driven economy to a decarbonised one, using natural gas as a transitional energy resource. Its production from unconventional reservoirs comes with environmental risks that we have to assess and control. This degree is delivered jointly by The Lyell Centre and the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering.

The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts serious consequences from further emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, thereby accelerating man-made climate change. This requires a drastic decarbonisation of our economies by switching from fossil fuels to renewable energies like wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal or by implementing carbon capture and storage (CCS) at scale. Renewable energies can readily be used in the form of electrical power. When electricity production exceeds the demand, electricity can be stored in grids or batteries at limited capacity. At larger scale, electricity can be stored in the subsurface after conversion to, for example, hydrogen, thermal energy, or compressed air until needed, allowing for back-production within short and longer time scales of hours to years.

In comparison to temporary energy storage, CCS aims at safe and permanent storage. The UK and especially offshore storage sites in Scotland are attractive targets for CCS and considered to extend the lifetime of oil and gas reservoirs significantly, 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.

September 2023 entry

The deadline for applications from Scottish and RUK students is 31st August 2023. For EU and overseas applicants, we guarantee to consider applications submitted by 1st August 2023.

Programme duration

Full-time: 1 year

Industry links

SES is building on a number of courses related to the upstream petroleum industry currently taught at Heriot-Watt University within other programmes. New courses specifically address the important aspects related to geothermal energy, energy storage or CCS. The aims of this programme are to increase awareness and enhance the skills related to professional engineering and geoscience and related scientific methods.

Students in SES 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 has an industry-based strategic advisory board which monitors activities in the wider context of the needs of the industry and offers guidance on the degree, ensuring its 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.

Course content

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. Economics, 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 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.


Our MSc will prepare you for a wide range of career opportunities in many different sectors including:

  • Traditional oil and gas sector
  • Emerging geothermal industry
  • Wider energy sector
  • Government agencies and regulating bodies
  • Non-government organisations (NGOs)
  • General technical consultancies
  • Academia.

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

We are committed to providing study opportunities to applicants who have a wide range of prior experiences through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). For more information on RPL, please contact the Admissions Team ( ahead of application. We can only consider requests for RPL at the time of application to a 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:

  • 20 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.0 with no skill lower than 4.5)
  • 14 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.0 with minimum of 5.0 in writing and no skill lower than 4.5)
  • 10 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with no skill lower than 5.0)
  • 6 weeks English (for IELTS 5.5 with no skill lower than 5.5)


Tuition fees for entry
Status Full-time
UK £15112
Overseas £29960


  1. Your residency 'status' is usually defined as the country where you have been ordinarily resident for the three years before the start of your course. Find out more about tuition fees.
  2. Overseas includes applications from European Union countries who do not hold Pre-Settled or Settled status in the UK. Read more about the application process for EU nationals.

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.