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.