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Geology/Oil Industry and Petroleum geology


Hello Mr. Patton, my name is Aidan Mendonca and I am a senior in high school planning on majoring in geology in college and hopefully end up in the field of petroleum geology. My question to you is about how the oil industry in the U.S. is not doing very good right now; the price of oil is very low and I've been hearing how some companies have been laying off workers because there is no need to find oil at the moment. I would like to know does this fall in the oil industry have an affect on the chance of becoming a petroleum geologist? I know that it could go up when I'm done with college but hearing how there laying off workers is making me kind of nervous.

The layoffs are in the field crews and drilling crews.  In the industry most geologists work in offices.  Drilling crews,fracking crews and logging crews are usually working for the service companies.  They are roughneck jobs and if companies are not hiring rigs the crews get laid off.  I have been in the industry for 35 years and this is the second oil slump I have been through.  The first was in 1987 and it was for the same reason: OPEC overproducing and there was a glut of oil on the market.

I believe both were geopolitically motivated. In 1987 President Reagan and William Casey Director of the CIA came up with a strategy.  The USSR was dependent on oil for their hard currency.  They were competing with the USA in an arms buildup in the early 1980's and the two men saw it as a way to destabilize the USSR.  It worked.  Reagan had sold F-15 fighters to the Saudis over the objections of the Israelis and so they owed the US a favor.  Back in the late 1930's the Saudis asked the US to be the guarantors of Saudi independence.  They chose the US over Britain and France who both had colonial possessions in the region, Britain in Iran, and France in Syria and they were both wanting control of Saudi oil.  Instead the Saudis allowed US oil companies, the Seven Sisters, to form the Arabian American oil company now known as ARAMCO.  It is now wholly owned by Saudi.  So the US has a long history in that region.  The result was the USSR collapsed about 4 years later.

Today with the US on the verge of being an oil exporter the Saudis did the same thing for a number of reasons none of which they will admit to.

The Shale oil boom in the US requires high oil prices because of the expensive fracking and horizontal drilling necessary to extract the oil.  So the Saudis may have lowered prices below the economic threshold necessary for shale oil to be profitable.  Second, they may have done it to help the US punish Russia for their aggression in the Ukraine. It is having a crippling effect on the Russian economy far beyond what is being reported in the press.  It might also be to hurt Iran who also relies on oil for a large part of their national budget.  I do not believe the US government is involved although the crippling of the shale oil boom is something that Obama has been trying to do since he took office in order to please his "green" supporters.

If you continue with your degree their will be a job for you.  The "great crew" change is approaching, meaning that geologists like me are nearing retirement. I'll be 65 in six years.  A lot more are ahead of me and in the next few years thousands will be retiring and it scares the oil companies.  So there will actually be a shortage of experienced petroleum geologists and engineers. Pet Engineers is a good way to go if you like math.  They are in higher demand, and get paid more for a 4 year degree than a geologist does with a Masters.  Supply and demand.  There are fewer of them, to go around.  So you might look into that.  But be sure you do you homework and find a subject to do your Masters on that is relevant to what the industry is doing and wanting, not what your advising professor wants to do.  Too many kids get fooled into doing what the professor wants or needs help with only to find that the professor is studying that subject at the university because no one will pay them to do it anywhere else.  Remember that you have to find someone who is willing to pay you for what you know and give you a job doing it.  Maker sure the subject matter is relevant and in demand, else you'll have skills and knowledge no body wants or wants to pay for.  I interviewed a woman who was in just that situation.  She learned 30 yaer old technology that no oil company was using anymore because that is what her professor was interested in.  I know because I used to work with people who did it in the 80's.   When I asked her about it, she said, "Yes, I finding that no one is using it anymore."  Shame on her professor.  But you see, more and more for the professors its about a pay check not about the students.  Colleges want to fill seats to get tuition bucks, and professors have to fill seats to get tenure and to keep their jobs.  They also supplement their pay checks with research grants and they need grad students to do the actual work.  They might have 3-4 grants and they get paid from each one while the grad student might get peanuts, and they do most of the real work. So their is a conflict of interest when professors act as guidance or advisers to students. Be sure the university and professors can offer you what it is you want to learn, don't just go and then learn what they have to offer, it might not be worth anything in the long run and you will have a degree that is worthless.

To read more on the "great crew change"  do a bing search for AAPG great crew change for graphs and statistics on employment.



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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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