Petroleum geologist job

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Susan White is forging a successful career as a geologist for an oil company. She spends a lot of her time sitting in front of computers, using geological software and other data to build computer models of what's going on beneath the earth's surface.

How did you get involved in geology?

I was reading medicine at university but, after three months, I decided it wasn't for me. The medicine department happened to be next door to earth sciences and I thought that sounded more interesting. I was already interested in mountains and being outdoors, and loved rock climbing, so it had a natural attraction for me. Unfortunately, I damaged my spinal cord in a climbing accident so now I'm paraplegic and paralysed from the chest down.

How has this affected your petroleum geologist job?

After a period of rehabilitation, I returned to my PhD with the research aims slightly amended. I still managed to finish my fieldwork in Bolivia with help from a field assistant. After finishing my PhD I did some lecturing in geology and then I started working. Since then, one way or another, I've managed to participate in field trips, using everything from donkeys to a special hand cycle.

What's a typical day like?

In an energy company our job is to predict where oil and gas reservoirs start and finish, and suggest the best places for wells to be drilled. Apart from sitting in front of a computer, I also spend time in the core store, where we keep cores of rock from each well that's been drilled. We use these to get an even better understanding of what lies below the surface.

What equipment do you use?

I need to operate computers and underwater cameras to measure the ocean floor and machinery to bring up rock samples. We carry out seismic surveys of the ocean floor by sending down sound waves from a ship, which then bounce back. This can help tell us what layers of rock are beneath the surface and where the density changes. All this information can help us discover the location and potential of an oil or gas field. I also use hand-held lens and microscopes to study the rock samples to see what traces and elements they contain.

What makes a good petroleum geologist?

You need good three-dimensional awareness and to be able to understand maps. You also need to know the characteristics of the different kind of rocks you come across. In some situations you have to react quickly and make instant decisions based on what you know about a well that is being drilled.

What hours do you work?

In the office it tends to be 9am-5pm but for a while I was working as an operations geologist, which involves constant contact with the rig on a 24/7 basis. When they were drilling, I was the person on the ground who had access to all the data from previous wells that they may have needed. Sometimes they needed to make really fast decisions and you could easily be called up at 2 a.m. to help out.

Is it the sort of job that suits people with disabilities?

You basically don't go out with a hammer breaking up pieces of rock any more, apart from the occasional field trip. Your typical oil industry job is more about computers. The challenges for someone with a disability are in the training, which does involve a lot more fieldwork.

Do your work alone or as part of a team?

Within an energy company you will be working as part of a team, perhaps with a seismic interpreter; a reservoir engineer who studies the dynamics of oil and gas under the surface; and if you get through to production stage, there will be someone who is actually involved in building the well. The geology is the common link, where it all starts with our maps and models.

Where else do geologists work?

There are lots of different applications for geology, from mining and environmental surveys, especially ground water management, to building and engineering work.

Susan's route to her petroleum geologist job












  • Degree in chemistry and geology.
  • PhD in geology.
  • Lectured part-time in geology.
  • Joined oil company.

Susan's petroleum geologisttips

  • You may have to think about working abroad as opportunities for geologists in Britain are fairly slim.
  • There are lots of different kinds of jobs in geology so make sure you find out all your options first, rather than taking the first thing that comes along.

Petroleum geologist related jobs

  • Teacher
  • Hydrologist
  • Chartered surveyor
  • Oceanographer
  • Soil scientist

Salary of a petroleum geologist

  • Starting salaries range between £15,000 - £25,000, depending on the size of the company and where you are working.
  • The major energy companies are likely to pay higher wages than service companies such as the Environment Agency.

Getting a petroleum geologist job

  • The normal entry route is with a degree in one of the geosciences. One year MSc courses are also available, providing specialised vocational training.
  • A research degree, such as a PhD, is usually required for a research appointment in industry or for a university post.
  • The British Geological Survey (BGS) is the largest single employer of geologists in the UK. The minimum requirements to start as an assistant scientific officer are A levels (H grades) or equivalent.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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