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Geology/Masters Degree


QUESTION: Hello Keith. I  really can't decide on which path to choose for my Masters. I'd prefer something environmental, I mean I want too but not sure(Heard that there are fewer jobs and less pay). No GeoPhysics by the way. Can you help me decide on what to take up?. I don't mind traveling if that helps in some way. Also are there like any geological certifications of any sort and any other skill set which can help me land better jobs?


I did environmental for 8 years at one of the premier outfits in the US, ERM Environmental Resource management, Inc.  At the time they were regional franchises, I worked for ERM-Southwest and we were known as the sweat shop.  You worked up to 50hrs a week normally and usually a lot more.  In the field, it was 6 days on, one day off, from sun up to sun down.  No extra pay since you were salaried.  Over time was expected.  You did get a year end bonus calculated on overtime and your billing rate, but the dirty secret was they took any sick time off the top of your overtime before they calculated it.  Probably illegal but done anyway secretively.  I parted ways with them when I got hosed over some work I did, authorized by my boss that was never recovered, that is they could not bill it out since the client cancelled the project or put it on hold It amounted to two weeks or more and was taken off my overtime reducing my bonus, so I resigned.

I tell you this because at the time I was making about $40K with about 15 years experience at the time.

Something you should know about the industry is it eats people up.  It is a conveyor system. They hire new grads work them like dogs and either you move up into product management or they force you to leave.  The exception is if you have scarce skills, like a PhD in toxicology, or some other specialty.  Mine was Remote Sensing and I had a certification allowing me to expert witness in court so I could bill out at $150 an hour.

You have to move up in order to sustain your billing rate.  The industry runs on billable hours, since you are a consultant.  The company bills the client for time you spend on a project. PMs scope out and budget their projects.  Low billing rates mean more hours available on a given budget.  If you are billing out at $50 an hour as a newbie, you will be in high demand by PMs.  If however you are a fuckup who has managed to hold on and is now billing out at $65, Pms won't want you on their projects and your days are numbered.  However, you might be a crackerjack Geologist billing out at $70 and you walk on water, still a crew can only drill so fast, and you rate might become prohibitively expensive for some PMs to use you.

So it is necessary for you to demonstrate the ability and responsibility to manage projects.  When you make this move from the field (where hopefully you've learned all the mistakes that can be made and how to avoid them or tell someone by phone how to deal with them,) you will be managing maybe 5 to 10 projects at one time, billing your higher rate out across multiple projects  (8 projects X 6 hours per project per week = 48 hours or something like that.) which would sustain your higher rate.

Ultimately you want to become a partner, but this is offered to only a select few.  I know of partners that were given their pink slips too, because they got older, and were forced out because they no longer brought in the amount of business the other partners thought they should.  You've heard these stories about law firms..same model.  Partners smooze and bring in the business to keep their staffs busy and to ensure their share of the profits, Fall down on that job and the younger harder working partners stage a coup.

Now you have no such problems in the oil industry.  The pay is higher by 50% or more.  I jumped over night from $40K to $56k and then to $76k in little over 3 years.

Now salaries are even higher.  I just hired a new hire for a little over $60K with now experience and only a BS.

The only thing I can tell you within the parameters you set is do your homework.

Right now, directional drilling and fracking are hot and will remain so unless Barry takes permitting of drilling away from the states and gives it to the EPA which will kill the multiple plays that are going gangbusters now and for the forseeable future.  These plays hold potential that dwarfs Saudi Arabia's oil reserves.

So if I were you, I would select a school that has professors who can support my thesis work on some aspect of directional drilling or fracking.  This means seeing what schools are publishing stuff regarding directional drilling, micro seismic etc. Do not let the profs guide you into areas they are interested in, because then you are basically an indentured servant, helping them publish and graduate with a thesis in something that may not even be relevant in the real world market place.  There is definitely a reason some people go into teaching, they can pursue things that no one will pay them to study in the real world.  I had coworkers in the petroleum industry in research that go canned because they spent too much time doing things that had no relevance to finding and recovering hydrocarbons. They lost sight of the fact that they were working for a profit driven company owned by shareholders and not a university funded by government grants.

If you petition one of the many small to midsize companies who are heavily involved in it you might get both thesis support, an internship and a job out of it when you graduate.  You will be somewhat of an expert in that area when you finish and that will give you a big leg up on competition.

The last thing is  make sure you go soemwhere that has, teaches or makes available for student use one of the industry leading Geology and Geophysics software packages such as Kingdom, Petrel or Landmark.  Having experience with these is almost a requirement now for new hires.  I give 4 full weeks of training in this stuff for my new hires.

I hope this helps.

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QUESTION: Thank You, it did. One more thing, what's your take on Economic Geology?

Economic geology relates more to mining.  Sadly mining is a dying area of employement.  Canada and Australia are home to the largest thriving mining companies.  Canada does a lot in the US and Australia at home and in Papua New Guinea.

Back when I was in research at Phillips Petroleum we had a rock water interaction lab (to study hydrothermal mineral formation) as well as a minerals group.  Neither one survived the 1980's.

It is just not an area that employes a lot of geoscientists.  One company might have a few, but the greatest number are usually employed tromping the hills collecting samples to find areas that are prospective.  You know, geochemical sampling of streams and sediments to locate areas up stream...the search for the mother lode kind of thing.  The they will drill some slim hole exploration wells to assay ore to see if it is worth opening a mine.

Don't get me wrong, I loved economic geology when I took it, loved hard rock geology, there just isn't any money in it as far as employment goes.


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Keith Patton


I can answer questions concerning physical and historical geology, environmental geology/hydrology, environmental consulting, remote sensing/aerial photo interpretation, G&G computer applications, petroleum exploration, drilling, geochemistry, geochemical and microbiological prospecting, 3D reservoir modeling, computer mapping and drilling.I am not a geophysicist.


I have 24 years experience split between the petroleum and environmental industries. I have served as an expert witness in remote sensing, developmental geologist, exploration geologist, enviromental project manager, and subject matter expert in geology and geophysical software development.

American Association of Petroleum Geologists
American Association of Photogrammetrists and Remote Sensing

Bachelor and Master of Science
Registered Geologist in State of Texas

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