Petroleum Geologist Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

About this article
A petroleum geologist's mean annual salary is around $147,140. Is it worth the educational requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about the career prospects to find out if becoming a petroleum geologist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Petroleum Geologist

As a geoscience specialist, petroleum geologists searche for untapped gas and oil deposits underneath land or the ocean using advanced computers and instrumentation. If you think this is something you would enjoy doing, then consider the pros and cons of this career.

Pros of a Career as a Petroleum Geologist
Entrepreneurial opportunities*
Various work environments, such as a gas and oil platform in the ocean, an office, a boat or various sites on land, both in the continental U.S. and abroad*
High earning potential ($147,140 annual mean salary in 2014)**
Good job prospects (16% projected increase in employment from 2012-2022)**
Various opportunities (research, consulting, teaching and managerial pursuits)*

Cons of a Career as a Petroleum Geologist
Possibly physically taxing, risky work**
Fieldwork - remote sites, difficult conditions, foreign travel**
Long and irregular hours**
Requires a master's degree**
Job availability grows and shrinks cyclically**

Sources: *American Geosciences Institute. **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Petroleum geologists study the earth's crust, looking at its structure and determining its composition. They prepare written reports and maps based on their findings, along with making recommendations derived from their interpretation of the data. They may use instruments, such as an atomic absorption spectrometer and a gas chromatograph, to analyze solid samples in a lab. In the field, they may make use of diamond core drillers, GPS (global positioning system) navigation systems and gravity meters.

When trying to determine what's under the surface, they may use seismic studies or drill core samples. They also examine fossils in the area, all in an effort to determine the presence of oil and gas deposits. As well as working in the field, petroleum geologists work in an office reviewing field data and creating computer simulations. They put their findings together into a report to present to their superior, who could be a chief geologist, a manager or a CEO of a private company.

Job Growth and Salary

The BLS anticipated that employment prospects for geoscientists would increase by 16% from 2012-2022. Employment trends are cyclical, varying with the economy and the price of gas and oil. During recessions and/or low prices for gas and oil, jobs may decrease.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), geoscientists working in the mining and petroleum industries were among the highest paid of all geoscientists, with a mean salary of $147,140 in 2014 (www.bls.gov).

What Are the Requirements?

You may begin to prepare for a career as a petroleum geologist by taking courses in engineering, physics, math, chemistry, biology, computers, English and earth sciences in high school. You can start your postsecondary education with a bachelor's degree program. According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree in engineering, biology, math, or chemistry may also be suitable if your studies include courses in geology. Since employers prefer candidates with at least a master's degree, you can pursue a master's degree in geosciences once you've earned a bachelor's degree. If you're interested in working in academia or you're seeking a high-level position in research, you will need a Ph.D.

In addition to a degree, most employers expect you to have field experience, which can be acquired as part of your degree program. Alternatively, completing an internship or an undergraduate research experience may provide you with the necessary field experience. According to the BLS and the University of Montana, petroleum geologists should have good communication (abilities to properly write and speak to get their ideas across), interpersonal, problem solving and quantitative skills. You should also have experience using:

  • Computers (data analysis, digital mapping and computer modeling)
  • GPS (Global Positioning System)
  • GIS (Geographic Information Systems)

Licensing Info

You need to obtain state licensure if you wish to you offer your services to the public. Licensure is available from the appropriate state regulatory agency. Requirements vary according to the state, but generally involve meeting the education and experience requirements. Not all states have a licensing requirement for geologists, and some states exempt petroleum geologists from licensure.

Job Posting from Real Employers

A company may advertise for a petroleum geologist, but many employers use a job title that indicates the type of work you will be doing. Most employers want applicants who have a master's degree, experience in the field and the ability to use industry software. Here is a small sample of jobs suitable for petroleum geologists that were advertised in March 2012:

  • A Texas gas and oil production and exploration company working in the Gulf of Mexico was seeking an exploration geologist to find future sites to explore. Applicant must have a master's degree and deep water experience.
  • An energy and utilities company in Colorado was seeking a petroleum geologist with skills in modeling, assessment and probabilistic software. Your main responsibility would be looking for drillable petroleum reserves.
  • An exploration company in Oklahoma wanted to hire a developmental geologist with a master's degree and experience with Petra or Geographix software.
  • A gas and oil company in Texas advertised for a geological specialist who is knowledgeable about reservoir quality and skilled in the latest technology in the field.

How to Stand Out in the Field

While in school, you can take advantage of gaining experience through working in an academic laboratory or by completing a co-op, fellowship or internship. As a petroleum geologist, you will need to travel to where the gas and oil are, and you may find yourself working in a foreign country. Learning a second language, as well as about the country's culture, can be an added benefit.

In the course of your career, you may use various technologies, which change and advance at lightning speed. Technologies may include computers with software, x-ray diffraction units and scanning electron microscopes. Keeping up with the changes and learning how to use new equipment can keep you a step ahead of the competition.

Update Your Skills

You can make sure your skills are up-to-date by taking additional courses through the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Topics may include petroleum land issues, well log analysis or applying structural geology. You may also work on a team with petroleum engineers, land managers, paleontologists and geophysicists. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with these fields and to gain an understanding of how their job duties fit with your duties may help you stand out as well.

Obtain Certification

The Division of Professional Affairs (DPA), part of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (www.aapg.org), offers certification to petroleum geologists. To become certified, you must meet ethical and professional standards, along with training and experience requirements. You must have studied geology for at least 30 semester hours from an approved DPA school. You must also have worked full-time as a petroleum geologist for eight years. The number of years of experience decreases by one year if you have a master's degree and three years if you have a Ph.D. Experience must be in the areas of development and/or exploration for petroleum deposits.

Publish

Publishing academic papers in refereed journals or writing textbooks may help to establish your reputation as an expert. By publishing in a refereed journal, your articles are evaluated by your peers or experts in your field before they are published, thus ensuring that the research is sound and the article meets the standards of the journal.

Alternative Career Paths

If being a petroleum geologist appeals to you because you like working outdoors, but you don't see yourself travelling the world searching for oil and gas, you can consider studying to become a geologist without specializing. Geologists study the earth and its composition and history. They are involved in the protection of the environment, as well as finding energy resources, minerals and water. You only need a bachelor's degree for an entry-level position. Payscale.com reported that most geologists made from $36,000-$92,000 as of March 2012.

Does petroleum geologist seems like a great occupation to you, but you're not interested in spending a significant amount of time in school? If this is the case, you can pursue a career as a science technician. You could choose to become a geological or a petroleum technician. While you might be able to obtain a job and learn the necessary skills on-the-job, most technicians have a 2-year degree in applied science. Jobs for petroleum and geological technicians were anticipated to increase by 15% percent over the decade of 2010-2020, according to the BLS. The BLS found that petroleum and geological technicians earned an average salary of approximately $58,000 in 2011.

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