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What does a Petroleum Geologist do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A petroleum geologist uses his or her expert knowledge of geological principles to determine the location and size of crude oil deposits. He or she might work for an oil or gas company, a governmental agency, or as an independent contractor, exploring different locations and pinpointing oil reserves. A petroleum geologist might use advanced computer technology to survey a region so that he or she can inform other experts how and where to drill.

Scientists usually spend a great amount of time conducting field research. A petroleum geologist may work alone or with a team of other professionals, exploring land and ocean seabeds for oil deposits. He or she will look for signs that oil may be present in a certain location by taking samples of surface rocks and drilling a small sample well to collect subsurface sediments. Rock samples are evaluated using microscopes, geochemical analysis kits, and other laboratory equipment, to determine the presence of hydrocarbons and other minerals consistent with oil-rich areas.

Modern petroleum geologists frequently employ global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) to help them identify and record the locations of new reserves. Using information gathered by GIS and GPS devices, three-dimensional graphing software, and physical samples, a petroleum geologist can determine the exact location of a crude oil deposit, the likely yield, and the depth to which companies should drill. Geologists usually consider the environment and ecosystems surrounding a potential drill site, and promote careful drilling practices to minimize pollution and disturbances to the earth.

To become a petroleum geologist, a person must typically receive at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. Some employers, especially government agencies, require new geologists to hold master's or doctoral degrees. In addition, a beginning petroleum geologist may choose to take a certification exam in order to improve his or her credentials and increase the chances of finding employment. In the United States, the American Association of Professional Geologists (AAPG) offers certification. Many other countries have similar nationally recognized boards which grant certification to petroleum geologists.

The demand for knowledgeable petroleum geologists is generally strong. The dwindling oil supply worldwide is creating new jobs for scientists to find new reserves and maximize the output of known wells. Experts are contracted to conduct new expeditions in unexplored areas, such as Antarctica and deep ocean beds. Geologists are needed to better explore Canadian territories and Alaskan regions, where glaciers and expanses of tundra likely entrap significant petroleum reserves.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Jul 01, 2011

I am studying for a degree in petroleum engineering. I am truly excited about the opportunities this field can offer.

Since petroleum provides more than 70% of the world’s energy today, this job is very important. Future petroleum engineers like me will be responsible for applying our knowledge to find new and better methods for drilling and collecting.

I have heard about new methods being used to recover additional petroleum from reservoirs that have already been tapped. Some methods are underground combustion, steam injection, and chemically treated water injection designed to release the oil that has become trapped in the rock’s pores.

By shell4life — On Jul 01, 2011

@kylee07drg - I don’t mind at all! Several factors enter into determining the salary that a petroleum geologist job can bring.

The state of the oil market will be one determining factor. As demand and prices fluctuate, the amount you can bring in will change also.

Level of education is a big factor. If you have a bachelor’s degree and 2 years experience, your salary will be around $74,000. Those with master’s degrees and 2 years experience might make about $95,000. Someone with a doctorate degree and 2 years experience might get $100,000.

In addition to these nice salaries, companies often provide bonuses and profit sharing. These can be thousands of dollars.

By kylee07drg — On Jun 30, 2011

@shell4life - I hope you don’t mind my asking, but can you tell me what a typical petroleum geologist salary might be? I have always been interested in the earth and its processes, and I am trying to decide on a major. I would like to know how lucrative this business is before deciding to make it my field of study.

By shell4life — On Jun 29, 2011

My husband is a petroleum geologist. When he was applying for his job, the company required that applicants have an extensive knowledge of the history, composition, and structure of the earth’s crust. They also required a thorough grasp of geophysical techniques.

My husband easily met all of these requirements, because he has a master’s degree in geology with a focus on petroleum geology. He got the job, and he has to work alongside petroleum engineers. Together, they find the best ways to extract oil, natural gas, and petroleum.

In addition to finding the location of these natural resources, my husband has to document his findings. He must make maps and charts and present them to authorities for approval of the project.

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