The PhDs themselves are aligned with the 4 main themes that NERC announced in their call, namely:

  1. Effective production of unconventional hydrocarbons - Unconventional oil and gas (i.e. shale oil and gas resource plays, tight gas sandstones, heavy oil reservoirs etc.) are playing an increasingly important part of the energy mix. Producing these resources effectively and with minimal environmental impact requires innovative science and technology.
  2. Extending the life of mature basins - Mature basins such as the UK’s North Sea contain very significant amounts of unrecovered hydrocarbons. Identifying and producing this resource in a cost effective way and environmentally sensitive way is technically challenging but will extend field life and help reduce UK reliance on imported energy in the medium term.
  3. Exploitation in Challenging Environments - The petroleum industry has successfully extracted a large proportion of the "easy to get" oil and gas. Large resources are still present in environments in which exploration, appraisal and production are difficult and where conventional technologies are inadequate (e.g. ultra high pressure high temperature (HPHT) reservoirs, subsalt, polar regions).
  4. Environmental Impact and Regulation - Reducing the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction is a key priority for the Oil and Gas sector. Improvements in the scientific understanding and technology used during hydrocarbon resource extraction will result in lower levels of environmental impact and will directly influence UK oil and gas industry regulations.

The partnership seeks to achieve a balance of submissions of, and recruitment to, PhD projects under each header from each institute where possible.  The percentage split of recruited projects over the first 3 annual cohorts is Unconventional Hydrocarbons (30%), Mature Basins (27%), Challenging Environments (26%), Environmental Impact & Regulation (17%).  Some projects address two or more research themes.

It is expected that new themes will emerge and existing ones could be modified in future years in response to research and training requirements.

Whilst the programme is geared towards PhD research, the partnership has a graduate training academy embedded within the 4-year PhD programme. The training academy will address all the main areas of Oil & Gas research so that the individual PhD projects can be contextualized and their relevance in the greater setting of energy demand and environmental responsibility can be stressed.