What is an Exploration Geologist?

Ken Black

An exploration geologist is a person who uses specialized knowledge of the Earth's surface to discover resources of value. Usually, this type of geologist is used for oil exploration. They may also be used for natural gas as well. An exploration geologist may not always meet with success, but there is a better chance of success if a company utilizes the services of such an expert. Otherwise, drilling for oil, or other resources, becomes a significant gamble.

An exploration geologist may work to help find oil.
An exploration geologist may work to help find oil.

Often, becoming an exploration geologist will require an advanced degree in geology. The most discerning of employers will also require several years of experience. Thus, finding a job on the general market may be hard to do. For those who want to pursue this career, it may be best to develop contacts through internships, and secure an entry-level job while still in college.

An exploration geologist will work outdoors scoping out a site and looking at rock formations on the surface.
An exploration geologist will work outdoors scoping out a site and looking at rock formations on the surface.

An exploration geologist may use a number of different techniques to help detect fossil fuels. The most significant tool at the disposal of such a geologist will be drill samples. These samples will be cored from the Earth's crust. Tests may help a geologist show where the most effective drilling areas may be. In addition to finding the resources needed, the core samples may also show where the easiest places to drill will be. This helps not only find the resources, but to harvest them in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

An exploration geologist may spend nearly as much time outdoors as they will indoors. Outdoor work will include scoping out a sight and looking at rock formations on the surface, and possibly even supervising the drilling process. Once the core has been drilled, it may be taken to a makeshift laboratory for testing and analysis. Even with the tests, which may indicate a strong likelihood of oil, there are times when the oil will not be in sufficient enough quantities, or may prove too hard to get to. Instead of giving up on the general site, the exploration geologist may then recommend another nearby drilling location.

The career of an exploration geologist may be considered by some to be a very difficult lifestyle. It often requires many months spent at very remote locations. Those who have families may not see them very often. The locations are often so remote that the only access is by boat or aircraft. These locations are often not set up for those with families, meaning the only option is to leave them at a nearby village or outpost. The benefit to this harsh lifestyle is a salary well above the average of what many professionals may make.

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Discussion Comments


@anon343939: Check out Lakehead U in Thunder Bay. They have a great geology program!


What schools do you recommend for me? I live in Toronto and I'm planning to pursue this career. I'm still in high school.


Well, we also look for precious metals, not just oil, and employment is often seasonal if you work up north where the winters are harsh. Things often shut down when the snow hits and don't start up again until spring melt.

Also, exploration geologists are frequently employed by larger corporations as "independent consultants" which is a whole 'nother can of beans. and those "drill samples" this article speaks of, that's core. Nobody likes to log core, but the money is good!


@ysmina-- The exploration geologist usually reports to the project manager.

The length of employment really depends on the company and the individual. But since they are employed by exploration companies that find and sell resources, it's not like they won't need an exploration geologist all of the sudden. As long as the geologist is good at their job, I'm sure they can work with one company for a very long time.

Also, these companies benefit from the knowledge of the geologist greatly. There are a lot of employees, especially junior geologists that work with them. The job doesn't end with finding resources.


Who does the exploration geologist report to? And how long does an exploration geologist stay with a company?

I mean, can they keep finding resources for the same company for 20 years or even until retirement? Or is it short term employment because the company might let them go after the resources are located?


I think this job is a big responsibility. As far as I know, drilling for oil is no cheap endeavor. It costs a lot of money and the company is relying on the knowledge and decision of its exploration geologist.

If the geologist is not successful in finding oil or if there are other problems, the company is going to be losing money.

I'm sure this is inevitable in every exploration geologists' career, but if their losses are greater than their successes, it definitely won't be good. So it's a big risk and big responsibility to take.

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