What Is a Petroleum Geologist?

Petroleum Geologists have one task: to prospect for fossil fuels using all the tools at their disposal.

What Does a Petroleum Geologist Do?

Regardless of whether or not the Earth has reached peak oil (and some believe we already have), it is now a competitive market. Some 150 years since we started using fossil fuels in large amounts, the petrochemical industry needs to be more efficient at locating and tapping fossil fuels. That is where the role of a Petroleum Geologist comes in. He or she is a specific type of geologist trained in using scientific methods, examining evidence and following leads that look like potential new sources of oil, and increasingly, gas.

They use a wealth of data - survey equipment, geological maps, GIS, cartography, aerial photography for evidence of new pockets. What is clear is that some of our oldest and most reliable pockets are starting to run dry. It is now a matter of principle that we develop technologies to locate and mine for these resources. We do know that one effect of the global price fluctuation is the increasing difficulty of locating new pockets and mining it. We need to develop new engineering methods to maintain the supply.

They typically work in the field and in the lab / office. They are trained in using survey equipment directly, taking geological samples or perform seismic studies. They would then compile a report for other professionals such as teams of petroleum engineers.

Where Does a Petroleum Geologist Work?

Naturally, petroleum geologists work directly in the industry. 32%, that's around 1/3, work in support activities for mining. They are at the front line of fossil fuel prospecting, locating and evaluation potential new pockets. They help develop the industry, providing advice and reports to decision makers.

23%, that's just under a quarter, work in oil and gas extraction. They typically work on location, monitoring the viability of existing pockets. They will fulfill much the same roles as those in support activities, but will be on site to monitor potential problems and continue to assess the existing facility.

10% work in engineering services, typically independent of the fossil fuel industry, and will be consulted by a range of industries on a range of issues. Analysis of fossil fuel potential of an area is just one of the services they provide. Similarly, 4% work in management and scientific technical consulting, fulfilling similar roles, but occasional as self-employed consultants.

6% work in testing labs. Increasingly, petroleum geologists work in both the field and in labs. Few openings exist purely in labs. Where available, these are likely to be internships for students or research assistant roles for PhD students.

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What Is the Average Petroleum Geologist Salary?

Petroleum Geologists, who fall under the broader BLS category of geoscientists, earned a median salary of $93,580 as of May 2020. The top 10% in the field earned more than $201,150 during this time.*

Petroleum Geology Jobs & Job Description

Petroleum geologists work in both field and office settings as part of their work determining the location and amount of combustible fuel in sediments on land or in the ocean. Typical job duties for a petroleum geologist include:

  • Use of physics, mathematics and geological knowledge in exploration for oil, gas or minerals
  • Interpret geophysical information in project reports
  • Conduct field studies to analyze project data
  • Accurately estimate fuel amounts using various techniques including geochemical analysis, ground-based sonar or satellite mapping
  • Use equipment such as diamond core drillers, atomic absorption spectrometers and gas chromatographs
  • Develop knowledge of geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning (GPS) systems and interpret data collected from these technologies
  • Implement drilling strategies for extraction of fuel
  • Create and present post-project reports and maps to present to a supervisor, such as a chief geologist or project manager
  • Develop strong interpersonal and communication skills for working with other geoscientists

Senior petroleum geologists have a breadth of experience that allows them to be effective project managers. Once they have amassed experience as petroleum geologists, they may add the following duties to their job descriptions:

  • Provide supervision and guidance for staff level positions
  • Oversight and management of field activities, including all field studies and geochemical analysis
  • Review field data and create computer simulations
  • Examine fossil records to determine the presence of oil and gas deposits
  • Present team findings to superiors, which may include the CEO or Board of Directors
  • Develop strong verbal and written communication skills, particularly with regard to writing of technical reports

What Is the Job Demand for Petroleum Geologist?

Job demand for all geologists is expected to grow some 7% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS data.* There is an increasing need for more energy for our growing population here in the USA. Despite the continued green investment, use of fossil fuels shows no sign of slowing down in the next decade. One major upturn could be the various schemes across the country to extract gas from fracking. Much of the increased demand for petroleum geologists could be in gas rather than oil. Therefore, job demand is unlikely to see any significant drop, even in line with international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Petroleum Geologist?

Students wishing to enter a career as a petroleum geologist should follow the education path of a typical geologist. High school students should study math, physics and geography, as these will form the core of your college and university application. High scores in the sciences will be essential if you are to continue.

Degree students should continue in this manner, though it is strongly advisable that you study a geology degree. Complementing minors and electives should include physics, math, geography and where available, relevant IT skills such as GIS. These technology-based skills are more likely available at master's level at present than at bachelor's degrees. Graduates with bachelor's degrees only should not, at present, experience difficulty finding relevant entry-level positions. However, these roles are more likely to be support roles and not carry a great degree of responsibility such as project management or supervising.

Masters graduates should find more roles available to them, especially in research and project work. The greater level of independent study for these students means that more responsibility is likely early on, with greater potential scope for promotion, and salary and perks. Evidence interpretation of aerial photographs and GIS data means more responsibility and advisory positions.

Doctorates are suitable for academia, such as research and teaching, but also for a number of roles in industry. Typically, a PhD graduate will be involved in the higher levels of advisory, consultation and decision making within those businesses thanks to their deep knowledge and understanding of evidence.

Petroleum Geology - Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Petroleum Geologists Have?

As a global community employing thousands of people, there is a wealth of bodies in this area.

  • American Association of Petroleum Geologists: This US based organization has offices all over the world, working with the industry to improve standards and communication between oil producing nations. They regularly publish information of petroleum geology science and offer advice to professionals
  • The Society for Organic Petrology: This international organization promotes research and safety in organic petrology, particularly in the areas of coal and kerogen. They educate and inform, and act as a network of global industrial professionals
  • Independent Petroleum Association of America: A body that represents independent producers, it was formed to protect the natural resources of the US and give smaller petroleum producers a voice, helping small producers and maintaining a strong supply

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for geoscientists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

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