Rewarding Careers in Petroleum Exploration

The Quest for Energy

Rewarding Careers in Petroleum Exploration

(A slide set prepared for public talks:  it is expected that presentations can use audience-specific subsets from this collection of graphics)


  1. Title Slide
  2. Petroleum Exploration's Challenge:  Projecting surface observations into the subsurface using remote sensing tools.
  3. The Goal - 'Black Gold':  Petroleum provides more than 60% of our current energy.
  4. What is Petroleum?:  Definition.
  5. Petroleum Products:  We are familiar with the primary products, but
  6. Petrochemical Products:  provide many items we use daily and never associate with oil.
  7. World Fuel Consumption:  Our demand for energy continues to increase.
  8. Population-driven Energy Demand:  The demand is driven largely by population increase, but ….
  9. Energy Usage: ….. there are other 'driver' and modifiers' of the energy demand.
  10. Projected World Energy Supplies:  One model for the primary sources of energy into the future shows oil and gas dominating the supply until 2040 to 2060, suggesting that careers in oil and gas remain important for at least three more generations of geologists and petroleum engineers.
  11. Major World Petroleum Basins: The worlds known petroleum comes from a widely distributed number of areas, but the largest reserves are concentrated in the Middle East, Western Siberia, and Venezuela.
  12. Major North American Petroleum Basins:  In North American, the major oil fields occur in a limited number of basins, and supply less than 50% of current domestic demands

Exploration Opportunities

  1. Geologic Field Work:  The quest for oil and gas continues on a global scale as current over supply in likely to disappear within 10 years, driving the price upward and encouraging a renewed effort in exploration for new discoveries and enhanced production techniques to recover more reserves from known reservoirs.
  2. History of Petroleum:  A useful resource since ancient times, but mostly since invention of the internal combustion engine in 1885.
  3. Petroleum Industry Breakthroughs:  Driven by the demand for petroleum, the creative efforts of geoscientists and engineers have resulted in technological innovation that has successively provided new tools for exploration and enhanced recovery.
  4. Anticlinal Theory:  Gas being lighter than oil, and oil lighter than water, provides the most fundamental fact used in exploration and production of oil and gas.  Either field mapping or subsurface mapping of structurally high reservoir rocks provides definition of potential traps.
  5. Petroleum Industry Scientists:  A broad array of technologists work in the petroleum industry, from exploration through production and refining.
  6. The Importance of Developing Technologies:  The constant infusion of new technologies and tools results in new opportunities in old places.  New, more cost effective exploration and production techniques open up opportunities in locations where old technology was not cost effective.  The infusion of the new tools is now largely driven by computer technology, creating a demand for a new generation of computer literate employees.
  7. Why Oil Companies Have a Viable Future:  Many economic pundits predict the demise of the oil companies.  This prediction is refuted by three facts:  1)  Petroleum company demographics;  2)  Expanding international opportunities;  and 3)  Infusion of new technology.
  8. Geoscience Demographics:  The current staff of most oil companies is rapidly aging with the hiring peak of the 1978-1983 "boom" entering retirement age within 10 years, and an inadequate replacement population in place.  Just to sustain operations, oil companies must significantly increase hiring.
  9. Global Undiscovered Potential:  New geographic areas provide an increase in opportunities to discover new reserves.  In the 1990, there has been a doubling in the areas open to western oil company activity, driven largely by the opening of the former Soviet Union and the partnering with national oil companies in China and Venezuela.
  10. Global Exploration:  The on-going and emerging opportunities for exploration and production are globally distributed in a broad spectrum of structural and stratigraphic environments, driving the need for an educationally and culturally diverse work force.
  11. The Search for Oil and Gas:  Because the process of exploration and production is complex, it demands a work force with diverse skill sets working together in partnership.
  12. Integrated Technology:  For example, in order to increase production and improve recovery from a producing field, a team of geologists and engineers must work together to find the best field development plan.  Cross discipline communication is essential in such teams.
  13. Integrated Reservoir Management:  The integrated team can optimize existing data, analyzed using new tools, and test new ideas for development using computer simulation.
  14. Impact of Integrated Reservoir Management:  An example of a successful team effort is shown by this production history for one Neogene deltaic field in Nigeria.  The history of production and predicted production decline is show in red and orange.  An integrated team of technologists re-interpreted the depositional environment, developed a plan for placement of injection wells to drive the hydrocarbons into production wells, and achieved both an immediate increase in production and a much greater total recovery from the reservoir.  This translates into a significant increase on investment return.
  15. Extended Reach Drilling:  In addition to integrated team efforts, the application of new technology provides economic incentive for continued exploration and production.  Drilling technology now allows wells to be drilled laterally thousands of feet away from drilling platforms.  This technology required not only downhole motor and steering assemblies, and a new generation of drilling muds to reduce friction on the drill string, but development of geologic techniques to keep the bore-hole within the objective pathway.
  16. Extended Reach Drilling:  By using extended reach drilling, one gas field in the southern North Sea achieved a cost savings of $70 million, and increased reserve potential by 54 billion cubic feet of gas.  Economically successful examples such as this encourage companies to continue investing in the new technologies.

Careers for Geoscientists

  1. Geologic Mapping and Sampling:  Traditional roles of collecting field data, both geophysical and geologic, are only one small example of the opportunities open to geology majors working for oil companies.
  2. Career Paths:  Each individual can direct their career path by continuous learning of new skills and the optimal application of those skills.  This not only provides sustained interest in the job but significant opportunity for lateral mobility.
  3. Geoscience Professional Development:  The employee and the company are partners in career development, whether the career pathway is that of a specialist or generalist.  As experience increases, an employee's primary activity evolves.  Technical ladder geoscientists can work toward roles of specialist, consultant or integrator, each providing a rewarding career.
  4. Geologic Data Analysis:  Petroleum exploration and production is a data driven science.  Computers provide a tool to better manage and interpret that data using a broad spectrum of fundamental laws and concepts of geology, hydrology, physics and chemistry.
  5. The Petroleum Geologist - A Detective:  In most cases, the petroleum geologist will be dealing with relatively small amounts of data and must learn how to interpolate and extrapolate from that limited data set to achieve success.  This challenge is met by using all the tools and data available, evaluating the economic potential based on the interpretation of the data, and recommending a plan of action to management.  Where else but in an oil company is a geoscientist going to find the resources to test geologic predictions with a well that costs millions of dollars?
  6. Core Calibration for Petrophysical Analysis:  The data available to the geoscientist can range from analysis of rocks, either from outcrop or core, which are used to calibrate well logs and provide interpretations of depositional environments,…..
  7. Computer Simulation and History Matching:  ….to the use of computers to evaluate the depositional model by altering the model to fit the production history of a field.  This iterative process results in better geologic models used to interpret the rock based data.
  8. Industry Geoscience Careers:  Exploration and producing geoscience spans a broad range of subdisciplines:  the following slide set attempts to show elements of each discipline with the technical fields or activities highlighted in the red box:
  9. Regional Geology:  Once a geographic area of opportunity is identified, the regional geologist assembles the data and interprets the paleogeography of the area, identifies existing petroleum systems or probable petroleum systems of that area, and recommends the potential exploration plays that meet the economic parameters of the company.
  10. Basin Modeling:  Computer simulation of the generation, migration and entrapment of petroleum within the structural, stratigraphic and thermal context of a basin provide critical estimates on petroleum system potential for economic reserves.
  11. Structural Geology:  Interpretation of the structural history, using seismic record sections, interpreted following fundamentals derived from both computer and physical models, provides definition of potential traps for hydrocarbons.
  12. Faults as Seals and Conduits:  Geology is a four dimensional discipline; the evolution through time of three dimensional entities.  An example is faults, which at various times in their history can be either barriers to hydrocarbon migration or conduits along which oil and gas migrate.
  13. Stratigraphy:  In petroleum geology, the depositional environment of reservoir, source and seal rock is often interpreted from stratal geometry identified on seismic reflection profiles.  This work requires an understanding of depositional systems, sequence stratigraphy, petrophysical analysis of well logs, and biostratigraphy and paleoecology from fossils.
  14. Clastics:  One example of stratigraphic analysis is for the potential of oil from coaly source rocks, which requires:  1) an understanding of the geochemistry of the oil; 2) matching the oil to a specific type of source rock; 3) understanding the physical, chemical and biologic aspects of the probable depositional environment of that source rock; and 4) predicting when and where that depositional environment would occur within a potentially effective petroleum system.
  15. Carbonates:  Similary, in carbonate systems an understanding of the evolution of organisms that produce carbonate sediments and the consequent distribution of those sediment-type and their diagenetic history is essential to effective petroleum exploration and production.
  16. Exploration Geochemistry:  Understanding the origin of different types of oil and gas provides ideas about where the source rocks of that hydrocarbon may have been deposited and how it may have migrated from the mature source rock to the trap.  Such understanding provides a template for additional exploration along the migration pathway.
  17. Reservoir Characterization:  At the production scale, the depositional fabric of a reservoir controls fluid flow, and will vary between different depositional environments.  Models based on modern analogs, selected by careful analysis of subsurface data, can then be tested through computer simulation and history matching.  This type of integrated study can result in much better estimates of reservoir volume and reserves in place, and development of an optimal production plan optimizing recovery.
  18. Producing Geochemistry:  A tremendous aid to reservoir characterization is provided by detailed identification of hydrocarbon types within the reservoir.  If distinctly separate and/or mixed types are identified, they provide constraints on the connectivity of different parts of the reservoir, and perhaps even the migration and entrapment history.  From this understanding a plan for maximum hydrocarbon recovery can be developed, including when and where to use fracturing, acidizing, water flood or other techniques to enhance recovery.
  19. Aerial Photo:  Each of these geoscience subdisciplines uses a spectrum of tools and data.  Some traditional tools, such as aerial and satellite imagery have improved in resolution or surface features, where as …..
  20. 3D Seismic Image: ….. new tools, such as 3D seismic data, allows imaging of the subsurface as we have never seen it before.  This 3D seismic image shows the distribution of reflection amplitude of a data volume that looks like, and probably is, a channel-fed submarine fan.
  21. Play Definition from Trap and Reservoir Images:  3D seismic volumes allow display of a structural image, identifying synclines and anticlines (horizontal - two-way time slice), and a stratigraphic image, identifying channel fed sand-prone fan reservoir facies (stratigraphic - RMS-amplitude extracation from an interval immediately above a sequence boundary.  Where the stratigraphic reservoir occurs within a structural trap is the drilling target, if further analysis suggests the occurrence of hydrocarbons.
  22. 3D Seismic Image of Channel Sand:  State of the art techniques in analyzing 3D seismic volumes are rapidly expanding.  This picture shows a three dimensional view of a submarine channel sandstone, a single hydrocarbon reservoir.  The channel sand was penetrated in one well, characterized by the petrophysical properties measured by core-calibrated wireline logs, and then extrapolated through the 3D seismic volume using parameters identified by neural network analysis of the petrophysical data.  The application of these techniques resulted from the teamwork of a sedimentologist, geophysicist, petrophysicist and mathematician.  Increasingly, petroleum geology requires teamwork with cross discipline communication being an absolute requirement for project success.

Petroleum System

  1. Petroleum System, Play Definition, and Risk:  Exploration for hydrocarbons is most often organized about the Petroleum System, which defines the source, reservoir, seal and trap as elements, and generation, migration, entrapment and preservation as the processes.  This necessitates construction of a series of cross sections and maps that reconstruct the history of an exploration play area.
  2. Petroleum System Definition:  The essential elements and processes as well as all genetically related hydrocarbons that occur in petroleum shows, seeps, and accumulations whose provenance is a single pod of active source rock.  [also called hydrocarbon systems and oil and gas systems][Magoon and Dow, 1994].
  3. Deer-Boar Petroleum System at Critical Moment:  [the Deer-Boar is a fictitious name for a conceptual model petroleum system] Map view of the geographic extent of the Deer-Boar petroleum system at the critical moment (250 Ma).  Thermally immature source rock (Light green) is outside the oil window.  The pod of active source rock (pink) lies within the oil and gas windows.  Critical moment refers to the time that best depicts the generation-migration-accumulation of hydrocarbons in a petroleum system. In fact, it is an interval of time rather than a geologically instantaneous moment.
  4. Petroleum System at Critical Moment:  Geologic cross section showing the stratigraphic extent of the fictitious Deer-Boar petroleum system at the critical moment (250 Ma).  Thermally immature source rock lies updip of the oil window (above green dots).  The pod of active source rock is within the oil window.
  5. Present Day Petroleum System:  Subsequent rifting of the basin results in modification of traps containing the initial accumulations of hydrocarbon.
  6. Oil and Gas Fields of Deer-Boar Petroleum System:  Inventory of accumulations which provides the basis for the geochemical typing of hydrocarbons and biomarker matching of a hydrocarbon to a specific source rock.  This provides the basis for identifying a petroleum system.
  7. Burial History Chart:  Showing the Critical Moment (250 Ma) when the source rock reaches maturity and hydrocarbons are generated during the interval of 260-240 Ma.
  8. Petroleum System Events Chart:  The events chart shows the relationship between the essential elements and processes as well as the preservation time and critical moment.

Petroleum System Elements:

  1. Petroleum System Elements:  The physical entities of a petroleum system are called elements, and consist of the source rock, migration route, reservoir rock, seal rock and trap.  Each of these elements constitute a critical component of a petroleum system and must be carefully studied.
  2. Petroleum System Elements:  Defined.
  3. The Origin of Petroleum:  Fine-grained sedimentary rock contains insoluble organic matter called kerogen, which can generate hydrocarbon when subjected to sufficient heat for enough time to crack the kerogen to hydrocarbon.
  4. Source Rock for Petroleum:  Organic matter occurrences in rock are controlled by both productivity and preservation.  This laminated rock from the Monterey Formation of California has seasonal laminations;  dark layers represent wet season clay from surface runoff that is also organic rich as the marine productivity system peaks during this season due to both nutrients in the runoff-waters and coincident upwelling of nutrient-rich deep water.
  5. Kerogen Types:  The dominant types of organic matter are algal and woody.
  6. Marine biological productivity produces algal organic matter that is rich in hydrogen atoms and yield oil under thermal cracking, while much of the terrestrial organic matter is woody with low hydrogen content and thus is gas prone.  Accurate prediction of probable hydrocarbon type and volume, based on paleogeographic and productivity models, is critical to exploration success.
  7. Reservoir Sandstone:  A reservoir rock is one in which pore space exists for the accumulation of hydrocarbon, and the pore spaces are interconnected (permeability) so the hydrocarbon can move both into and out of the pore spaces.  Understanding of diagenetic processes and predicting diagenetic histories within three dimensional reservoir facies is essential for optimal reservoir development strategies.
  8. Reservoir Sandstone:  Diagenesis of the reservoir rock, such as cement formation, can reduce the pore space volume and reduce the permeability so less hydrocarbon can flow through the rock.
  9. Traps:  A broad range of trap types exists.
  10. Hydrocarbon Trap Types:  Traps illustrated.
  11. Seismic Imaging of Anticline:  Most early discoveries of hydrocarbons were from anticlinal traps, either mapped by surface geologic patterns, or from anticlines imaged in the subsurface using reflection seismology.
  12. Seismic Image of Anticline:  Example of a subsurface anticline imaged on a 2D seismic reflection profile.
  13. Seismic Imaging:  Currently, 3D seismic data is the primary exploration tool.  This allows for much more precise imaging of both the structure and the stratigraphy of a trap.
  14. 3D Seismic Image - Submarine Fan:  The 3D seismic volume permits imaging of depositional elements of the rock record, such as this confined flow (channel) systems feeding a less-confined flow fan.  If the high amplitude facies, shown in red, is sand-prone, the 3D seismic image  clearly defines a potential reservoir.
  15. East Texas Oil Field:  Discovered in 1930, the East Texas oil field was located first from surface mapping.  It is a combined structural/stratigraphic trap with an erosional unconformity on one limb of folded strata.
  16. Prudhoe Bay Oil Field:  Discovered in 1968 using 2D seismic reflection profiles, as also a combination structural/stratigraphic trap, with an unconformity across the crest of an anticline.

Petroleum System Processes:

  1. Petroleum System Processes:  The processes of the petroleum system consist of generation, migration and accumulation, and also the preservation of the hydrocarbon once in the trap.
  2. Petroleum System Processes:  Defined.
  3. Thermal Maturation History:  Generation of hydrocarbon requires the thermal cracking of the kerogen.  Depending on the composition of the kerogen either gas or oil or gas and oil will be generated.  With increasing depth of burial the oil may be further cracked to gas.
  4. Petroleum System Events Chart:  The petroleum system events chart captures the timing of each element and process of a system.  Once the source rock as been buried with sufficient overburden, the thermal cracking of the kerogen generates hydrocarbon.  Once the kerogen has produced sufficient hydrocarbon to saturate the source rock matrix, the excess hydrocarbon is available for migration. 
  5. Petroleum System:  Timing is Critical:  For accumulations to occur, a trap must exist either before or coincident with the time of migration.  The petroleum system events chart helps capture these critical aspects of timing.
  6. Petroleum System: A petroleum system is dynamic, constantly changing as a consequence of migration, deformation, etc.  If an oil-prone source rock matures to gas generation, it is possible that early entrapped oil can be displaced if the accumulation is confined between two highly effective seals.

Economic Aspects:

  1. Quantitative Play Analysis:  Once a petroleum system is defined and/or a trap mapped, an evaluation of its economic potential must be carried out.  Given the volume of a trap, and the type of hydrocarbon expected, a reserve in millions of barrels of oil equivalent (MMBOE) can be calculated, and using historical data, the probability of finding an accumulation of that size can be estimated.  That potential accumulation can then be risked based on the confidence in the analysis of petroleum system elements and processes.
  2. Exploration Costs:  The driver for the economic analysis is clearly cost.  Collection of seismic data for exploration is very expensive, and wells in environmentally sensitive locations or remote areas are extremely costly.  Thus, a careful economic assessment is essential.
  3. Cost of Drilling Rigs:  One of the problems with any economic assessment is changing parameters.  For example, in late 1988 costs for drill rigs was high due to lots of wells being drilled with oil at $22 per barrel.  Then in late 1988 and early 1999, collapse of the Far East economy resulted in excess supplies of oil and the price per barrel dropped to less than $11 per barrel.  This drop in price resulted in many plays no longer being economic and lots of drilling was canceled, resulting in a surplus of drilling rigs and a drop in the daily cost for a rig.  By late 1999, production reductions by OPEC countries had decreased the surplus of oil, and the price rose to $24 per barrel.  Such variations make planning very difficult.
  4. Different Ways Industry Pays for Drilling Rights:  Most oil and gas exploration occurs on land owned by governments or individuals. The oil companies must pay the owner for the right to explore and drill. This is an additional cost that must be factored into the economic analysis.


  1. Drilling Rig:  Rotary drilling rigs are the tool used to test the potential trap for hydrocarbons.  The surface rig provides the power to lower the drill pipe into the hole , turn the bit to penetrate the rock, and pump the mud system to lift the rock chips out of the hole and prevent formation fluids, oil, gas or water, from entering the hole until testing.  To protect both people and the environment, a system of blow-out preventers is attached to the casing which is cemented to the rock formations.  This system controls both the drilling fluids and formations fluids as the depth of the drilling hole penetrated into higher pressured intervals.
  2. Drilling:  A rock bit chips the formation providing cuttings, which are easily removed by the circulating mud and provide the geologist with information about the subsurface.  When more detail in needed, a core bit, often set with industrial diamonds, is used to drill into the formation leaving a solid core of rock in the center of the bit.  This rock core provides observations of sedimentary structures, bedding patterns, and detailed microscopic analysis for interpretation of environmental environments and prediction of reservoir quality.
  3. Directional Drilling Avoids Surface Hazards:  Originally, drilling was only vertical, but new technology and drilling fluids permit directional drilling.  For instance, in California, several oil fields offshore are produced from wells with onshore surface locations.
  4. Biosteering:  To reduce the number of wells needed to produce a field, directional drilling can be used to selectively penetrate the reservoir.  In this example, from the North Sea, a well was directionally steered using biofacies information from fossils and rock type information from cuttings and logs.  The one well penetrated nearly 3000 feet of the reservoir interval resulting in the need for fewer wells and a savings of $12 million.
  5. Log Analysis for Flow Unit Determination:  During specific stages of drilling, a set of logging tools is lowered into the hole to measure various rock and fluid properties.  This information, calibrated by rock cuttings and drill fluid analysis, helps identify the type of rocks and fluids encountered.  Interpretation of the depositional environment of the rocks helps in predicting the distribution and quality of a reservoir or seal, and the porosity and permeability of the reservoir rock.  Measurements of fluids provides information on the presence or absence of hydrocarbons.
  6. Downhole Drill Stem:  Once an interval of probable reservoir rock with possible hydrocarbons present is penetrated, a special tool in lowered down the hole to recover formation fluids within that specific interval.  This provides a test not only of the type of fluids present but the rate at which they will flow out of the formation.
  7. Completed Oil Well:  A well is completed for production when oil or gas in economically viable volumes and production rates is located.  This is a very complex assembly of downhole devices to assure that the hydrocarbon fluids do not enter into other formations where they might contaminate water supplies.  Movement of the hydrocarbons from the formation deep in the earth to the surface can be driven by water or gas pushing the oil or gas out of the formation, into the well bore and up to the surface production system.
  8. Secondary Recovery:  Primary production, that which occurs naturally by earth driven pressures moving the hydrocarbon to the surface, recovers only about 40% of the hydrocarbon in the reservoir.  Some of the remaining hydrocarbon can be recovered by injecting water, gas, steam or chemicals into the reservoir to drive the 'left-behind' hydrocarbon out of the reservoir.  Fire within the reservoir can also help increase the recovery of reserves.  While these techniques are expensive, the initial production infrastructure is already in place, and through very careful study of the reservoir geometry and flow-unit patterns, additional reserves can provide additional profit.
  9. Transporting Petroleum:  Much of the world's petroleum reserves are far from the markets needing the products.  Transportation from fields by seagoing tankers or land pipeline systems brings the oil to refineries where the oil and gas is processed into a spectrum of marketable products.
  10. Refining Petroleum:  Similar to the natural thermal cracking of kerogon into hydrocarbons, refining involves the thermal cracking of hydrocarbon into specific products.

Petroleum Industry Statistics:

  1. Wells drilled in the USA:  During this century, the success in drilling has shifted from dominance of oil to gas discoveries.  Technology, such as 3D seismic, has reduced the number of dry holes but oil has become increasingly harder to discover in well explored areas.
  2. US Domestic Production:  Additionally, the total production of oil and gas in the US has declined since 1973 as the easily found and less expensive to produce hydrocarbon has begun to be depleted.  This has lead to a greater dependence on imports.
  3. United States Petroleum Imports:  The global energy market has continued to provide the necessary oil and gas to drive industrial economies.  However, as the US has used up much of its cheap reserves, and continues to increase energy demands through population increase and industrial expansion, we have had to import increasingly greater amounts of petroleum.  The purchase of this energy is increasingly expensive and constitutes a large part of the US foreign debt.
  4. Major Suppliers of Oil to the US:  In 1998, the major suppliers of oil to the US were Venezuela, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.  When the over production of oil resulted in a decrease in price from $22 to below $12 per barrel, it was these countries that helped cut back on production and drove the price back above $24 per barrel by late 1999.
  5. Costs/Barrel of Oil - At Well Head:  When oil drops from $24 to $12 per barrel, most of the drop comes out of the 'margin', which is the 'profit' available for new exploration and production investment.  Based on mid-1999 costs, a 50% decline in the price for a barrel of oil resulted in a 500% decline in the margin.  No wonder oil companies cut back their exploration programs and decreased their exploration staffs.
  6. USA Average Wellhead Oil Price:  Oil prices have always fluctuated, but recent changes have been much greater and occurred over shorter periods of time.  Note that the major factors causing the changes have been political, not economic.  This makes forecasting oil and gas prices very difficult.
  7. Regular Gas Price:  Despite the fluctuation of oil and gas prices, the average price of regular unleaded gasoline is near the long term average (currently about $1.20 nationally, October 1999).  In general, technology and world wide production have made gasoline increasingly less expensive when calculated in constant dollars.  However, the consumer has difficulty believing this when he pulls up to the gas pump and pays more than a dollar a gallon.
  8. Gasoline Price:  Cost versus Tax:  Often missed in the equation of gasoline prices are the taxes imposed by the state and federal government.  In January 1999, the tax on gasoline ranged from $ 0.35 in Tulsa, Oklahoma to $ 0.43 in Washington, D.C.  But this tax is nothing compared to the rest of the world.
  9. Gasoline Price:  Cost versus Tax:  While the US tax on a gallon averages $ 0.40, most countries have taxes that range from $2 to $4 per gallon.
  10. Gasoline Price:  Cost versus Tax:  Those taxes result in a 1999 pump price in the United Kingdom 454% higher than the US price.  While we complain of $1.20 per gallon at the pump, in reality, the US has always enjoyed 'cheap' gasoline relative to the rest of the industrial world.
  11. DOE Oil Price Forecasts:  In planning for the future, companies must forecast the cost of doing business.  Energy is an essential part of that planning.  It is interesting to note that the US Department of Energy believes that the price of oil will continue to go upward, but is not able to predict what the base price will be from year to year.
  12. 1998 Oil Price Forecasts:  The Department of Energy is not the only organization with difficulty in predicting prices.  This diagram shows the predictions for 1998-2008 by nine organizations.  There is no clear-cut pattern, and thus no unique strategy for planning except maintaining flexibility when it comes to the price of energy.


  1. US Oil and Gas Consumption/Efficiency:  With decreasing domestic hydrocarbon reserves, and valid concerns about the deleterious environmental consequences from burning fossil fuels, there have been numerous economic incentives for technological advances in fuel efficiency.  For example, the automobile consumes vast amounts of energy.  Since 1971, fuel efficiency in miles-per-gallon for a V8 engine has nearly doubled.  And yet population increases have driven consumption ever upward.
  2. More Efficient Energy Use:  But much more can be done with technology.  Only 12% of wellhead oil energy is actually driving a car's wheels.  The challenge is to find ways to reduce the heat and friction in powering a car and thus reduce fuel consumption and the emission of pollutants.
  3. Atmospheric Concentration of CO/2:  Carbon dioxide is one of the main 'green-house gases' and is produced by burning fossil fuels.  The record of carbon dioxide concentrations clearly records significant increases parallel with the industrialization of mankind. This increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide may result in global warming, the increase in storm intensity, the shifting of climate belts with deleterious impact on agriculture and populations dependent on local food sources.
  4. Reducing CO/2 Emissions:  While advanced technologies can increase fuel economy and reduce emissions, the increasing world population and the expansion of industrialization in to the developing nations essentially negates our progress.  Additional solutions are needed.
  5. CO/2 Capture and Storage:  Given that fossil fuels will remain our primary energy source for the next 50 to 100 years, we must find ways to capture and contain the carbon dioxide produced by mankind.  Increased reforestation can help as trees use carbon dioxide in photosynthesis and produce oxygen.  Carbon dioxide can be injected into depleted oil and gas reservoirs, resulting in both increased recovery of hydrocarbon and reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  6. Electrical Power Generation:  Additionally, development of new or improved sources of electrical energy, especially from renewable sources, must receive governmental support.  These future technologies are not cost effective in today's fossil fuel economies, thus we must provide incentives to sustain their development at the earliest possible time.


Students and Geoscience:

  1. Impact on Students:  While the petroleum industry is not the only source of employment for geology students, is has historically driven much of the enrollment.  This graph plots the price of oil and the number of petroleum engineer graduates at the Colorado School of Mines.  The patterns are parallel. The same graphs can be made for the number of wells drilled and graduating geology students at the University of Texas at Austin and Oregon State University.  Many of the petroleum related jobs are with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and state agencies responsible for monitoring oil and gas leases.
  2. Worst Case Employment Scenario:  Some pessimists have forecast the total demise of the petroleum industry as our supply of oil and gas diminishes.      While retrenchment and mergers of oil companies continue the loss of jobs, there are demographic forces that suggest great opportunities for the best geologists.
  3. Geoscience Demographics:  Due to the boom-times of the late 1970's and early 1980's, most geoscience companies have an aging population with many employees in their fifties.  This holds true for many university geoscience departments.  These geologists will be retiring during the next ten to fifteen years, opening up opportunities for a new generation of geologists and petroleum engineers.  With very few employees in their forties and thirties, and almost none in their twenties, there will by necessity be rapid advancement for those high potential, technically excellent geoscientists who come into the market over the next ten years.  If you doubt this just ask those geologists who graduated and joined industry in the late sixties and early seventies, just before the beginning of the boom during which they rode the wave of an expanding market.
  4. Optimistic Long-range Trends for Geoscience Employment:  What happened to the geologists that were displaced by the layoffs of the mid-eighties and early nineties?  Many left the profession, but many more changed emphasis.  The memberships of professional geoscience societies suggest that response.  AAPG and SEPM, traditionally oil patch societies, peaked in the early eighties and then declined to the present, while the traditionally academic and research societies of AGU and GSA saw significant growth.
  5. Geoscience Theses and Dissertation Topics:  Much of the growth in geoscience during the eighties and nineties has been in environmental disciplines.  Legislation for environment clean-up and monitoring has provided employment for geologists, hydrologists, engineers and others, but the employment opportunities in those fields peaked in the early nineties.  Thus, environmental geoscience is no longer a booming growth industry, and if the economy reverses and goes into recession many of those jobs will end.
  6. US Geoscience Student Enrollment:  With all this turbulence in the geoscience employment market student enrollment has also had it's peaks and troughs.  Undergraduate enrollement in geoscience peaked in 1983, crashed into 1990, and then bounced back some.  With the current flourish of oil company mergers and layoffs it is likely that another decrease in undergraduate enrollment will occur.  Graduate student enrollment has shown much less variation, with a significant number of non-North American students enrolling in graduate programs.  The best of these graduate students have found a moderately good market for employment.  This is likely to improve as the merging companies stabilize and begin to hire to offset the loss of their aging staffs.
  7. Supply:  Between 1970 and 1994, which encompasses the boom years of the oil business, there were 88,906 Bachelors of Science degrees awarded in geology.  This sounds like a lot but is only about 36% as many as chemistry degrees, and 13% as many with biology degrees.  How does this impact job competitiveness?
  8. Job Competitiveness:  Students graduating with degrees in geology have a much better opportunity to be employed in geology than the other basic sciences of physics, chemistry and biology.  There are only 1.9 Bachelor of Science degrees awarded in geology for every geologist employed.  This ratio is much more competitive than for chemists with 2.5 BS degrees/job, physicists with 4.7 BS degrees for every job, and biologists with 5.6 BS degrees per job.
  9. Employed Outside Initial Discipline:  Because of the lower competitiveness in geoscience jobs, there are fewer geology majors (48%) employed outside their initial discipline when compared to chemists (60%), physicists (79%) and biologists (82%).
  10. Demand:  The number of geologists employed in 1997 was approximately 46,000.
  11. Job Competitiveness:  With the current trends in graduating students in geology, it will take approximately 17.2 years to replace the currently employed geoscientists.  For biologists, it will take only 2.5 years to replace all currently employed biologists with the present rate of graduating biologists.  Thus, geologists have a higher probability of getting a job in geology, and more than likely keeping that job.
  12. Compensation:   And the average salary for geologists with a bachelor's degree in the US is very similar to that of physicists and chemists, and considerably better than biologists.  All of these statistics are based on Bachelor's Degrees, which for most careers in only the beginning of training.  Most science careers demand at least a Masters degree or more.  Thus, continuing training beyond a Bachelor's Degree should be considered the norm.
  13. Geoscience Careers:  Once the job is achieved, how does the geoscientist keep that job.  With the retrenchment of the geoscience industries, much has been written and said about attributes for survival.  Some of those most often mentioned include love (passion) for geology, a win-win attitude, being a team player able to contribute to interdisciplinary projects, perseverance and flexibility in times of stress and change, and a realistic appraisal of the career market.
  14. Geoscience Careers:  The other half of the survival formula is constant training.  Technology is advancing at break neck speed.  For a scientist to adapt, a strong back-ground in a basic-discipline provides a foundation upon which to grow.  Constant updating and expansion of skills and knowledge is essential, with development of a truly competitive-edge in one or two areas of specialty.  And most especially in today's market, superb communications skills, oral, written and graphical, in order to sell ideas and products.
  15. Cyclic Job Market:  All of the major technology career fields are cyclical.  Each begins with rapid growth and rosy predictions for infinite possibilities.  Most reach a peak, retrench and often crash, only to rebound at a later date.  Few people can survive this pattern of boom and bust employment.
  16. Cyclic Job Market:  A survival strategy is to use continuous learning as preparation for making timely changes from one sub-discipline to another or within one discipline from one employer to another. 
The Present and Future:
  1. Society Needs our Expertise:  Geoscientists bring a special understanding of earth history and its resources to human society.  Consequently, we are and will be needed for helping sustain an improved living standard in balance with a livable environment.
  2. Future of Sedimentary Geology:  The primary areas of geoscience employment for most of us will continue to be mineral resources and environmental issues.  That is likely to be unchanged.
  3. Job Market Expectations:  To get a job one needs to understanding what the employer is looking for.  In today's market, the employer assumes that the employee is self motivated, computer literate, a well-educated team player who can effectively communicate with both peers and management.
  4. Job Market Expectations:  Once hired, the employer expects the employee to have an immediate impact, keep a bottom-line business focus, be highly productive, proactively seek continuous training, and be a highly successful problem solver.
  5. Job Market Readiness:  To prepare for the above job market expectations, the student must have a broadly based education, balanced with both theory and application, so they can change readily from one type of project or activity to another.  Thesis work should reflect this mix of basic and applied science, and should be targeted toward the type of employment being sought.  In the boom times the thesis topic was not of much consequence.  Now the 'practically focused' student has a competitive edge.
  6. Job Market Readiness:  In the petroleum industry the successful new hire will be able to approach almost any problem and find a solution.  They will be computer workstation literate, having become so through university experience, summer internships or self initiated course attendance.  And without question, the successful employee will be self-motivated and proactive, taking charge of their career within the boundaries of the employer's guidelines.
  7. Never-Say-Never' to Exploration Areas:  The petroleum industry has a tradition of finding new ideas, developing new tools, effectively responding to changing economies, and finding new discoveries in old areas previously explored.
  8. Projected World Energy Supplies:  With at least another sixty years of dependency on fossil fuels, geoscientists will be in demand to staff the fossil fuel companies, to find new reserves, recover a higher percentage of known reserves, to decrease the negative impact on the environment, and seek alternative energy sources.  Thus, at least two more generations of careers in the petroleum industry await the passionately committed geologist.
  9. The Future of the Oil Industry:  With fossil fuels continuing to supply most of the energy for our industrialized society, there is a wonderful opportunity for rewarding careers for at least two more generations of geoscience students.  Higher efficiency demands for resource utilization requires high precision and better resolution of our tools.  There will be increased emphasis on enhanced recovery and production based on detailed sedimentology and fluid flow systems at the reservoir scale.  People will be the competitive component, as all companies will have the same or similar computer systems available.
  10. Largest Hydrocarbon Basins;  Many of those job will be focused on enhance recovery of reserves left behind in complex reservoirs of the major producing basins…..
  11. Computer Simulation and History Matching; ….. of production data to predicted rates and volumes will be critical to the success of the enhanced recovery programs.  The computer models will require geologically based models integrated with engineering parameters, necessitating detailed analogues and case histories combined through effective cross-discipline communication.
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Rewarding Careers in Petroleum Exploration Rewarding Careers in Petroleum Exploration Reviewed by LGs on 3/09/2011 Rating: 5

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