Skip Navigation

Petroleum Geology

Petroleum Geology

What is Petroleum Geology?

Petroleum geology is a specific field of geosciences that addresses the origin, distribution, exploration, development, and production of oil and natural gas resources. Petroleum geoscientists include many types of specialties such as petroleum geologists, exploration geophysicists, geochemists, sedimentary geologists, structural geologists, and paleontologists.

Petroleum geology involves the analysis of 1) source rocks that are rich in organic matter – the source of oil and natural gas, 2) geological structures and stratigraphic layers that permit accumulations of petroleum to form in the subsurface (traps and seals), and 3) the characteristics of porous subsurface rock formations that store oil and natural gas (petroleum reservoirs). 

Petroleum geology is exciting because one uses many different types of data such as rock cores from wells, well logs that provide information about the rock and fluid properties, and 3D seismic images, all of which are used to develop 2D and 3D maps and models of the subsurface and the distribution of petroleum resources, and to calculate volumes of oil and natural gas that exist in different areas (petroleum reserves estimates).  

seismic scan

Do my interests fit?

Petroleum geology students have a variety of interests:

  • Earth and planetary science
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Math
  • Computer science and visualization
  • Working in the field/outdoors
  • Working in the laboratory
  • Problem solving and creativity
  • Qualitative to quantitative analysis
  • Economics

Why is Petroleum Geology at OU important?

The School of Geosciences, Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering, and Oklahoma Geological Survey have historically had strong programs and a global reputation in petroleum research and education spanning more than 100 years (e.g., the world’s first School of Petroleum Geology was founded at OU, development of exploration seismology). Petroleum geology is an important part of the School of Geosciences and OU:

  • Many students attend OU to pursue petroleum geoscience and engineering education in preparation for careers in the petroleum industry, government, and academia. Students in the School of Geosciences achieve the education and skills necessary for rewarding careers and the curriculum is taught by exceptional faculty, many of which have valuable industry experience, that incorporate active learning through laboratory- and field-based experiences.
  • The petroleum industry has traditionally provided substantial funding critical for the School’s operations, scholarships, and research. Many of our alumni are benevolent donors to the School and the University.  Alumni support for the School is one of the highest for any academic unit in the University. Students have many networking opportunities with industry professionals that visit campus and through local petroleum companies.
  • Given our reputation, strength in petroleum geoscience and engineering, and quality of our students, many leading energy companies (15-30+) recruit at OU each year. Many students remain in Oklahoma and contribute to our local economy and communities.
  • OU is in the heart of a major petroleum province and is surrounded by several key active petroleum plays. Accounting for 10% of the State’s gross income, petroleum is the backbone of Oklahoma’s economy; Oklahoma ranks 4th in crude oil and 3rd in natural gas production in the U.S.  OU is close to many localities for fascinating geology field trips and site visits to petroleum company offices and laboratories.
  • Society will utilize petroleum resources to provide energy, as well as thousands of non-energy products, for many decades into the future.  Moreover, subsurface skill sets in petroleum geology can be readily adapted to problems involving CO2 sequestration, hydrology, and other important societal issues.  

What courses will I take?

For the B.S. degree in Geology (Petroleum option), courses are the same as the General geology option but also include several petroleum-related courses:

     For example, some of the fundamental geology courses you will take include:

  • Introduction to Mineral Sciences
  • Sedimentary Petrology and Sedimentology
  • Structural Geology
  • Depositional Systems and Stratigraphy
  • Field Geology - Capstone

You will also take courses that are required for the petroleum option:

  • Petroleum Geology
  • Subsurface Methods
  • Seismic Exploration

For the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Geology, there are many petroleum-related courses to advance your knowledge and skills.

How can I get involved?

There are several very active student geoscience and engineering organizations in which you are encouraged participate. Check them out:

For more information on student organizations please visit OU ENGAGE.

How can I study abroad?

Petroleum geology students have the opportunity to study abroad through a variety of programs:
  • Geologists in Colombia
  • Petroleum Engineers in Bolivia
  • Petroleum Engineers in Romania
  • Petroleum Engineers in Spain
  • Geophysicists in Brazil

What kind of career could I pursue?

Petroleum geologists pursue careers in the petroleum industry (both operations and research), state and federal government, academia, and secondary education. Careers and opportunities exist with small and mid-size independent petroleum companies, major petroleum companies, petroleum service and consulting companies, state geological surveys, national government laboratories, the United States Geological Survey, universities, and high schools. The type of career depends on the degree you earn and your experience level.  You can pursue careers in petroleum geology with B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees. 

Typically, if you earn a B.S. degree in Geology (Petroleum option), there are opportunities in the petroleum industry, government, and secondary education in the following petroleum-geology or geoscience roles:

  • Geoscience technician (computer-, laboratory-, or field-based)
  • Mudlogger or well-site geologist (analyzes and records data related to rock cuttings and associated fluids during the well-drilling process)
  • Geosteering geologist (analyzes drilling data to guide the drilling of horizontal wells)
  • High school science teacher

If you earn a M.S. or Ph.D. degree in Geology or Geophysics, there are more opportunities available to you in the petroleum industry, government, and academia in the following petroleum-geoscience roles:

  • Petroleum geologist (e.g., exploration geologist, reservoir geologist)
  • Petroleum geophysicist (e.g., seismic acquisition, processing, interpretation)
  • Seismic interpreter
  • Petrophysicist (knowledgeable about rock properties and well-log analysis)
  • Petroleum geochemist
  • Stratigrapher
  • Structural geologist
  • Research scientist (industry, government, or academia; Ph.D. degree)
  • University professor (Ph.D. degree)

How much will I make?

Visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website to explore the median pay for jobs you can pursue with this degree. 

Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy School of Geosciences University of Oklahoma

School of Geosciences
Phone: (405) 325-3255