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Geology/Some general questions / advice.


Hey Keith!  Just want to say thanks for taking the time to answer so many questions.  A bit of background; I am a 31 year old that has decided to go back to school for a bit of a career change.  I absolutely love Geology and just decided that now is the time.

For the past few years I have been working in Sales/Commodities Trading(Algorithm Development) and have really developed a keen interest in the exploration of natural resources.  I am originally from Calgary, Canada but am now living in Gothenburg, Sweden with my wife and daughter who are from here.  

So that is that.  I don't speak a very high level of Swedish so I am having to study my Undergrad (Bsc Honours Earth Science) through the Open University in the UK.  The program seems pretty middle of the road but I strive to finish with a high enough average that I can do my Masters here at the University of Gothenburg.

I have a few questions for you.  I would like to get into exploration but am not entirely sure how specialized I need to go?  What I mean by that is, is there a possibility to work in both mineral/economic exploration for part of your career and petroleum for other parts?  Do many people crossover between the two?  

I would really like to have the option to try a number of things throughout my life.  Also, the Masters program at the University of Gothenburg is specialized in Bedrock Geology with what seems to be a focus on Advanced Petrology, Mineral Exploration, Applied Geophysics, GIS System, Stratigraphy/Structual & Economic Geology.  Taking that kind of sequence with little in the way of Petroleum specialized courses would it be difficult to get on with a Major Oil company as a Graduate with that kind of skill-set?  I know the majors in Europe recruit from mostly the UK/Norwegian Petroleum heavy schools, I am just wondering if a Masters with more of an Economic Geology skill-set will still get you a foot in the door for an interview since many of the majors put you through a new education when you are hired on?  How important is your Masters Thesis on employability?

A few more questions.  Coming from Calgary originally, I really enjoy reading about the development of unconventional hydrocarbon plays.  Is a specialization in exploration for unconventional plays a valid career path in the near term future?  Maybe I am mixing things up, but does exploration for unconventional plays involve more economic geology style exploration than straight petroleum exploration techniques?

Last question I promise.  I have read in many of your answers that you don't think being a 35 year old new graduate will be much of a hindrance if you can focus on your maturity and earlier career skill-set that is a bonus to your new employer.  I come from a very strong Sales background and have read that much of exploration geology is actually in deal making.  If one enjoys exploration and the sales aspect in your opinion which kind of company/career path should one be looking to join and in what position?  Are overrides used more in mineral exploration than petroleum?

I hope I made my questions clear enough, thanks a lot for your time, I truly appreciate it!  



To your first question...No.  There is not much crossover between minerals and petroleum.  In fact there has always been a bit of animosity between the two...good natured as it is.  One are the hardrock crowd, and the other deals with those "dirty" sedimentary rocks.  One of my old advisors and mentors, sadly passed away now, was a hardrock mineralogist.  Dr. Keith Frye.
Look him up.   He joked about it when I decided to go the petroleum route by way of remote sensing.  I had a number of advanced petrology classes with him.  I think to a certain degree most geologists start out enamored with hard rock geology since its what the mountains are made of(mosty).  But sadly all the money is in sedimentary rocks these days.

Economic Geology is primarily the domain of the engineering geologists and the mining engineers.  I find that the number of geoscientists working in mining is a very minor fraction of geoscientists working in hydrocarbons.  A simple headcount of the membership in the AAPG and SEG gives you an idea.  I don't know what the subscriptions to Economic Geology or Mineralogy journals are, but I would wager the majority are academic types.  Mining and economic geology has been pretty flat if not dead in the US for a long time.  Canada and Australia seem to have the most active large companies in mining.  South Africa too to a degree.  I worked with a former diamond mining geologist, at Phillips petroleum in the 1980's.  He was in our minerals section and that group went away at the end of the decade as Phillips got out of both minerals and hydrothermal.  I doubt many petroleum companies do anything in minerals today.  He was able to move over to petroleum when his postion in minerals went away.

You are right in your concerns.  Sadly the curriculum you describe would severely limit your prospects in petroleum.  That sounds like a path right back into academia to teach.

Hiring for Oil and Gas companies is more and more controled by Human resources.  Gone are the days when you sent a letter to the VP or manager of a group who reviewed them and could "see" something in a candidate's resume.  You can still do that if you can meet the decision makers face to face say in a social forum like a society meeting.  Today, HR flunkies act as gate keepers.  I am currently hiring for software testing on my team of geologists and geophysicists.  I send in a job description.  The candidates are required to apply on line via our website so the HR person sees it and can "match" the resume against the job description.  Kind of a human version of the web crawler searche engine, which by the way, they rely on all too much to find candidates these days.

As you can see, this approach means you live or die by your resume and the key words it contains.  If your resume is filled with Igneous, granite, petrology, etc and not petroleum, sandstone, reservior, well logs, seismic interpretation, G&G software etc, you'll never make the first cut by the HR person OR the web crawler search engine which works off of key words.

Yes for a new hire out of school the majors do offer their own training programs, or did anyway, so you learn it the Exxon way, or Shell way of doing things, but in a new hire they look for the right basic skill set...well log interpretation, seismic interpretation, sedimentary petrology, reservoir geology, paleontology, etc.  Without those they will pass.

Most companies will not hire a BS holder except for a geotech position.  An MS is hired as an exploration professional.  In my experience the difference is the problem solving skills.  This is not always true, but is the generally held perception.  A BS is not specialized enough.  They know a little bit about a lot of stuff, but not enough about any one thing.  So graduate classes is where you become specialized and the thesis makes you an "expert" in your chosen area of your thesis either in the tech, or the geographic area you work in.  So if you were to say specialize in a topic that is currently "hot" in the petroleum industry, like geosteering, or microseismic as applied to fracking, you could easily walk into a job on graduation.  If you do an internship with a company, that usually if successful, results in a job offer on graduation.

The old saying about PhD means "piled higher and deeper" is true.  You know more and more about less and less and become very specialized in one field making it even more difficult to land a job except in research or academia.   The rigid salary classification of big companies also hurts since they won't offer you a lower salary even if you would take it as it would undercut the PhDs they already employ.  Trying to convince them to take you on for a MS position is like trying to talk a stripper into taking less $$ for a table dance.

I recently had a talk with a PhD who was contemplating dropping his PhD from his resume an only applying as an MS to overcome the bias.

So a masters while not the end all, should have some relationship to the kind of work you are trying to get hired to do.  Else it makes you look like you are just "settling" for something other than what you really want to do.

I interviewed a gal who had done a thesis in work I had been involved with 30 years ago and is kind of passe now.  The reason she did it was her "adviser" steered her in that direction.  She ended up with a MS thesis in old tech just because her advisor was still interested in it and needed assistance in her publishing.  So the gal was stuck with a thesis that was virtually useless in helping her find a job.

Suscribe to for new trends and info in the oil patch especially unconventional play stuff.

Unconventionals is just regular oil and gas exploration turned sideways.  It is all about horizontal drilling and fracking.  Geology and geophysics software (my deam develops Kingdom and Petra) drive it.  We have software the help the Geologist, or geosteerers guide the directional bit in the formation.  They find a sweetspot, low in the tight productive formation, and then steer the bit in that zone for miles horizontally.  They lay our the boreholes in a similar way to mine drifts, called laterals.  They determine the sweet spot in a variety of ways using clay mineralogy and other techniques most are company proprietary, but that would make a good thesis topic, comparing the success of the various techniques used if you could find out what they are.

The they frack using hydraulic overpressure.  My son in law heads up a fracking crew for Halliburton.  Microseismic software lets you map the position of the fractures in 3D from a 3d Seismic volume from realtime monitorinig and recording of the "Pop" they make when they open up.

The new technology is in the horizontal drilling advances.  The fracking has been around a long time.

Overrides are used in petroleum but only with small wholly owned companies where the owner can choose to share profits on a well by well basis with his geologist, the one who worked up the play.  There are independent geologists who work up plays and sell them at NAPE North American Prospect Expo where deals are made and you can sell your prospects to independent companies.
Large companies are share holder owned and do not have the freedom to share profits through overrides.

In large companies the only selling an explorationist might do is selling his idea to his supervisor, and then the the decision makers who will decide to risk the companies money on drilling.  There there is of course, selling yourself from the viewpoint of career advancement.
Everyone has got to take baby steps to start.  I had a friend who did his MBA after his BS in geology thinking it would launch him into management at an oil and gas company, all it did was land him in a job selling refined petroleum products out in podunk Va.  The rest of us with MS in geology degrees landed jobs with major companies.  He bet on the wrong approach.  Even that did not work for him and he runs a home inspection company now.


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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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