Petroleum Geology

The Moncrief Petroleum Geology Program is for students planning careers as geoscientists in the oil and gas industry, as well as careers in resource assessment, energy policy and graduate studies. Students graduating from the program receive the Bachelor of Science in Geology: Petroleum Geology Emphasis. 

Strong Support from Alumni and Donors

Western's Petroleum Geology Program launched in 2002, thanks to a $1 million endowment from Western alumnus Paul Rady, CEO of Antero Resources. Rady followed up in 2014 with another $1.5 million gift. Another $2.5 million in gifts from legendary oilman W.A. “Tex” Moncrief Jr. of Ft. Worth, Texas, in 2005 and 2007, established the "Moncrief Petroleum Geology Program." This further strengthened the program and demonstrates the significance of Western’s efforts within the industry. Interested students and sponsors can contact Dr. Elizabeth Petrie or Dr. Bradford Burton.

Job Prospects are Outstanding

  • About half of all geoscientists are set to retire during the next 10 years. Companies WILL replace them.
  • A hiring boom was experienced in the late 1970s and early '80s within the petroleum, mining, environmental, engineering, government and academic geology areas. As these individuals retire, job opportunities for college graduates are expanding.
  • In recent years, a hiring boom has brought career opportunities at all levels. This translates into a 10 percent to 20 percent rise in salaries for professional geologists with less than two years' experience. During the past 10 years, the number of people enrolling in geoscience programs has been steady, and according to AGI (American Geological Institute, only about 15 percent of those who enroll actually enter the geologic professional pipeline.  This means there are far fewer graduates than their are positions to fill.

Who Should Pursue a Degree in Petroleum Geology?

Geology is fundamentally a field science. We collect information about natural systems and use this information to understand geologic process, to explore for natural resources and to guide environmental stewardship. Working as a geologist requires strong skills in spatial thinking, visualization and creativity, along with a sound foundation in the basic physics, chemistry and mathematics, all of which provide you with an ability to take large, sometimes fragmented datasets to understand natural processes.

In addition to the field aspects of our work, many professional geologists are model natural systems, requiring some interest in working with technology, computer programming, database management and geospatial database management. Good writing and skill at communicating complex ideas, both to your peers and to laymen, improves a geology major's chance of professional success.

In addition to this broad spectrum of skills, geologists, unlike many other scientists, must consider the importance of "deep" time. Many natural changes occur at very slow rates, often requiring a geologist to consider problems over time scales much larger than the human experience.

Wired for the 21st Century

The Petroleum Geology program is housed in Hurst Hall, one of the most technologically sophisticated science buildings in Colorado. Instruction occurs in the GIS/Petroleum Geology lab. The lab has thirteen student stations for highly interactive instruction and uses the most up-to-date industry software and data sets. In recent months, the petroleum industry has made investments in Western’s program totaling more than $2,000,000.

  • Platte River Associates, Inc. BasinMod petroleum-systems modeling.
  • IHS Petra well-log correlation, petrophysics and mapping.
  • IHS Kingdom ©, 2D/3D seismic interpretation and modeling​.
  • Geo-Logic Systems LithoTectTM seismic-depth conversion and cross-section balancing.
  • GeoTools QuickDip statistical curvature (SCAT) dipmeter analysis.
  • Midland Valley Move 2D/3D Kinematic Modeling balanced cross-section modeling.
  • N.G.A. GMSys interactive gravity and magnetics modeling.
  • Schlumberger Petrel E&P Software Platform: Subsurface 2D/3D analysis and modeling.

The Moncrief Petroleum Geology program at Western:

  • Provides students a solid academic foundation.
  • Combines classroom and field study with current industry technology.
  • Fosters professional contact with industry geoscientists.
  • Promotes industry internships for early career reinforcement.
  • Mentors students toward relevant graduate programs.
  • Offers Western's Petroleum Geology Research Program, in which undergraduates engage in applied and fundamental research. Funding sources provide summer research experiences.

Why study Petroleum Geology at Western Colorado University?

In addition to the strengths of the Moncrief Petroleum Geology Program, Western is amid an extraordinary natural laboratory. Students gain a strong background in basic geology, with an emphasis on critical thinking and visualization. The local outdoor environment provides a wide range of opportunities for unique field experiences and undergraduate research opportunities. Combined with a comprehensive technology experience, and our emphasis on written and oral communication, our students are generally highly qualified for entry-level work in industry or for continued study in graduate programs throughout the country.

Interested in the latest news on the state of salaries for geologic professionals?  The 2011 article by Larry Nation, AAPGs Communication Directory can be found at 2014 article by Vern Stefanic, managing editor of the AAPG EXPLORER can be found at

Next Steps

If you're interested in Western's Petroleum Geology Program, we invite you to take the next steps towards becoming a part of the Mountaineer family.

Share your interest with friends and family:
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  2. Get more information about the program.
  3. Schedule a campus visit so you can meet professors, see the beautiful Gunnison Valley, and find out if Western is the perfect school for you.
  4. Start the online application process - apply online now.
  5. Find scholarships, grants, or financial aid that match your interests and situation.


Marcus Hinricher
Petroleum Geology graduate - “You’ve got to get involved, wherever you go to school."


FOR REQUIRED COURSES AND DEGREE PLANS, VISIT THE OFFICIAL UNIVERSITY CATALOG. This is a sample of courses offered by Western Colorado University. To ensure the courses you need are offered during the current semester, please visit the university course search.

 CHEM 111 - General Chemistry I (3 credits)

An introductory course designed for science majors focusing on principles and applications of chemistry. Topics covered in this course are stoichiometry, bonding models, intermolecular forces, and periodic trends. Prerequisite or corequisite: MATH 140 or Accuplacer college-level mathematics test score of 85 or above, ACT math score of 24 or above, or instructor permission.

 CHEM 112 - General Chemistry Laboratory I (1 credits)

An introduction to basic laboratory techniques of inorganic chemistry correlating with CHEM 111. Experiments emphasize techniques, instrumentation, and solution chemistry. Laboratory notebookkeeping and the safe handling and disposal of laboratory chemicals are also stressed. Additional course fee applies. Corequisite: CHEM 111.

 CHEM 113 - General Chemistry II (3 credits)

A continuation of CHEM 111. Topics covered are thermodynamics, kinetics, equilibrium, electrochemistry, and nuclear chemistry. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: CHEM 111 with a minimum grade of C-.

 CHEM 114 - General Chemistry Laboratory II (1 credits)

A continuation of CHEM 112. An introduction to basic laboratory techniques of inorganic chemistry correlating with CHEM 113. Experiments emphasize techniques, instrumentation, and solution chemistry. Laboratory notebookkeeping and the safe handling and disposal of laboratory chemicals are also stressed. Prerequisite: CHEM 112. Corequisite: CHEM 113.

 GEOL 101 - Physical Geology (3 credits)

An introductory class that emphasizes the environmental aspects of geology. The course covers the basic principles of physical geology, such as minerals, rocks, plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, and origin of landscapes by mass wasting, rivers, glaciers, ground water, and nearshore processes. Throughout this course, focus is on the effect of geology on human society through the study of geologic hazards, energy resources, and mineral resources.

 GEOL 105 - Physical Geology Laboratory (1 credits)

An introduction to identification of minerals and rocks and a discussion of their genesis followed by a study of landscapes formed by mass wasting, rivers, glaciers, ground water, and nearshore processes. Many of these principles are observed on local field trips. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite or corequisite: GEOL 101.

 GEOL 201 - Historical Geology (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A study of the interpretation of the geologic history, structure, and evolution of the Earth with emphasis on methods and concepts rather than factual information. Colorado geologic history and various principles are observed during three or four field trips. Topics and concepts such as geophysics, continental drift, and plate tectonics are integrated into discussions of Earth history. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: GEOL 101 and GEOL 105.

 GEOL 302 - Geoscience Writing (2 credits)

An introduction to the proper methods and accepted formats of written, graphical, and oral communication in the geological sciences. These skills are addressed through critical evaluation and discussion of the geological literature, by writing reports, review papers and research proposals, and giving oral presentations. Prerequisites: ENG 102 with a grade of "C-" or above and GEOL 201. Corequisite: GEOL 310.

 GEOL 305 - Mineralogy (with laboratory) (4 credits)

An introduction to the study of minerals. Important topics include the crystallography, crystal chemistry, and optics of important rock and ore forming minerals. Emphasis is placed on the crystal chemistry and stability of major silicate mineral groups. The laboratory emphasizes the field identification of minerals and the application of optics to the identification of minerals in thin section. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: GEOL 101, GEOL 105, MATH 141. Prerequisite or corequisite: CHEM 111 and CHEM 112.

 GEOL 310 - Stratigraphy and Sedimentation (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A study of the basic principles and origins of sedimentary rock units. Topics studied include sub-division of the geologic column and geologic time, depositional systems, stratigraphic nomenclature and rules, principles of correlationÀincluding a review of modern geophysical, geochemical, and chronostratigraphic methods, biostratigraphy, and event stratigraphy. Laboratory includes measurement of sections, examination of depositional systems in the field, and surface and subsurface stratigraphic techniques, including geophysical-log interpretation and computer mapping. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: ENG 102 with a minimum grade of "C-," GEOL 201.

 GEOL 311 - Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A study of igneous and metamorphic rocks, including their classification, field relations, tectonic setting, phase petrology, mineralogy, and geochemistry. The laboratory emphasizes both field identification of rocks and the use of petrographic microscopes. Several field trips are included. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: GEOL 305. Prerequisite or corequisite: CHEM 113 and CHEM 114

 GEOL 343 - Exploration Geophysics (3 credits)

Current geophysical techniques used in the exploration for, and development of, petroleum resources. Topics include: potential fields methods, thermochronology, refraction and reflection seismic theory and application, an introduction to quantitative geophysics, microseismic, and forward and reverse modeling. Laboratory projects use industry standard geophysical data and software to solve problems in petroleum exploration and development. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: GEOL 310, Prerequisites or Corequisites: GEOL 345; and either PHYS 170 or PHYS 200.

 GEOL 345 - Structural Geology (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A study of the deformation of the EarthÀs crust. The course begins with a study of the forces and movements within the crust which cause folding and faulting of rocks and a description of the resulting structures. These topics are followed by an analysis of the regional tectonic patterns of the EarthÀs surface and theories for their origin. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: GEOL 201 with a minimum grade of "C-" and MATH 141.

 GEOL 346 - Subsurface Geology (with laboratory) (4 credits)

An advanced undergraduate course in subsurface structural and stratigraphic methods pertinent to petroleum, groundwater, environmental, and tectonics investigations. Traditional and computer-assisted techniques are used. Students gain experience in integrating surface geology with subsurface well and geophysical data, understanding and managing subsurface data types, the principles and application of petrophysics, subsurface mapping methods, core and cuttings description and interpretation, and case studies of oil and gas fields. Field exercises emphasize the integration of surface and subsurface data. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: GEOL 343. Prerequisite or corequisite: GEOL 345.

 GEOL 450 - Field Geology (4 credits)

An emphasis on field observation, proper geologic mapping techniquesÀon both maps and aerial photosÀand interpretation and synthesis of field data into a report. Different geologic terrains in Colorado or other states are examined. Ideally, this course should be taken during the Summer semester, immediately prior to the senior year. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: GEOL 310 and GEOL 345; or instructor permission.

 GEOL 455 - Petroleum Geology (4 credits)

The petroleum system and modern exploration techniques including detailed study of petroleum source rocks, their deposition, thermal maturation and the chemical and physical characteristics of hydrocarbons, hydrocarbon migration, accumulation and retention, reservoir types and properties. Current techniques used in hydrocarbon exploration and resource assessment are taught through laboratory projects using real-world data and industry standard software tools. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: GEOL 346.

 GEOL 456 - Petroleum Geology of Unconventional Resources (with laboratory) (4 credits)

The geology of unconventional resources, the identification and mapping of resource plays, a survey of current industry development and resource estimation techniques, and an introduction to play and project economics. Unconventional and emerging petroleum plays including shale reservoirs for oil and gas, heavy oil and bitumen deposits, coal bed methane, and hybrid reservoirs are emphasized. Projects include play mapping and analysis, rock mechanics, reservoir stimulation and EOR techniques, decline curve analysis and forecasting, and integrate sustainability and environment/stakeholder management best practices. Prerequisite: GEOL 346.

 GEOL 465 - Research in Basin Analysis (with laboratory) (3 credits)

A study of sedimentary processes and environments, including the tectonic origin of sedimentary basins. This includes the most common terrestrial and marine depositional systems and their relationships. A strong emphasis is placed on field relations and research on the sedimentary rocks of Western Colorado and the Colorado Plateau. The course is topical in nature and requires individual and/or group research projects through the study of the geologic literature, the collection of geologic data in the field, and the presentation of results. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: GEOL 310 and GEOL 345.

 MATH 151 - Calculus I (4 credits)

A study of differential calculus, including limits, continuous functions, Intermediate Value Theorem, tangents, linear approximation, inverse functions, implicit differentiation, extreme values and the Mean Value Theorem. This course also introduces Integral calculus including anti-derivatives, definite integrals, and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. Prerequisite: ACT math score of 27 or above; SAT math score of 630 or above; MATH 141 with a minimum grade of C-; or Accuplacer university-level mathematics test with a score of 95 or above. GT-MA1

 MATH 251 - Calculus II (4 credits)

Topics include techniques of integration, area computations, improper integrals, infinite series and various convergence tests, power series, Taylor's Formula, polar coordinates, and parametric curves. Prerequisite: MATH 151 with a minimum grade of "C-."

 PHYS 170 - Principles of Physics I (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A quantitative lecture and laboratory introduction to the basic principles of physics. Topics covered include the motions of particles, forces in nature, field concepts, energy, conservation laws, and many-particle systems. A mathematical proficiency at the level of college algebra is recommended. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: Accuplacer College-Level Mathematics test score of 95 or above, or MATH 141. GT-SC1

 PHYS 171 - Principles of Physics II (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A continuation of PHYS 170 dealing with electromagnetism, light, thermodynamics,and the atomic structure of matter. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: PHYS 170.

 PHYS 200 - General Physics I (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A quantitative lecture and laboratory introduction to the basic principles of physics, using the concepts of calculus as a tool. Topics covered include the motions of particles, forces in nature, field concepts, energy, conservation laws, many-particle systems, and thermodynamics. A student may not receive credit for both PHYS 170 and PHYS 200. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite or Corequisite: MATH 151. GT-SC1

 PHYS 201 - General Physics II (with laboratory) ( credits)

A continuation of PHYS 200 dealing with electromagnetism, light, and the atomic structure of matter. A student cannot receive credit for both PHYS 171 and 201. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: PHYS 200.