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Geology/Environmetal vs Petroleum geology


My husband has been in petroleum geology for many years and due to the recent downturn in the oil industry has found himself layed off. I have wondered it a petroleum geologist can make the switch easily to environmental geology. And would there be a certain type of environmental geology that would best suit his skills and experience?


Sorry to hear it, I too just got laid off from an oil sector related job and am now on the lookout too.

To be honest, the environmental industry has been shrinking for the last two decades.  The industry did too good a job in the 80's and 90's cleaning up the old sites.  Today, the companies are fighting over crumbs.  My old employer, Environmental Resource Management in Houston, was laying off, and putting people on half pay until the BP Deep Water Horizon debacle.  It was like hitting the lottery for them.  They called folks back and sent an army of geologists and engineers over to work.  Don't be fooled, they were being billed out probably $80 an hour to rake tar balls from the beach.  The industry is built on hourly billing and they don't care and the oil companies do not do very good oversight on exactly what all those engineers and geologists were doing.  Unocal paid my going rate of $65 an hour back in the 90's for me to pick up trash and run a weedeater at a refinery site they were closing in Beaumont, Tx.

Okay, as far as skill sets.  OSU and maybe some other universities run programs to retrain people, I attended on in 1991 for 6 weeks, 7 days a week, 8 hours a day to give you 9 graduate credit hours in environmental sciences.  I was hired by ERM right out of the course, probably because I had talked to them before hand to see if the program was worth a damn.  They hired two of us out of 70.  

Oil field skills are not exactly translatable over to environmental.  They do not use well logs or seismic.  It is all about ground water and air sampling.  I carved out a niche in air photo imagery interpretation for litigation.  I had an imagery analysis focus in grad school.
I also had a lot of low temp geochemistry and soils.

Organic chemistry is a help if your husband had that.  The truth is the salary differences will shock you.  About 40% less.

Also, you start at the bottom and have to learn the ins and outs before they put you in a project manager position.  They want you to know all the problems you can encounter first hand so when you have to handle them by phone you know what is going on.

Billing works like this.  Young low paid geologists and engineers work on projects and as a project manager you devise a project budget.  So you want low billing rates to keep from busting your budget.  A Project Manager bills his time out across 10-15 projects he has going on, so puts in maybe 4 hours a week on each project at his higher rate, it does not effect the project much.  But if you have a high billing rate geologist or engineer working on a project, you can very well kill your budget if he runs into problems and his rate of $80 an hour can chew through a budget pretty fast.

So the personnel are on a conveyor.  You move up, your rate goes up, and you had better demonstrate a knack for management, or find a niche for yourself where you can bill out at a high rate.  Expert witnessing did that for me.  I billed out at $150 an hour on litigation work.  Everyone had to be 100% billable.  We had NO overhead.  You were on projects or you were gone.  It was pretty hard core.  Only a select few got asked to buy in as a partner.  

Some environmental companies are very engineer centric.  Geo types hit a glass ceiling.  ERM was not like that, but a lot are.  Its the old animosity between engineers and geologists.  He would also have to get registered as a geologist.

My advice would be for him to keep looking on the petroleum side.  Have him register on RigZone, and Worldwide Worker.  Both list a lot of geology openings.

I recently ran a search on ZipRecruiter and there were 90 openings for geologists in Houston.  So there are jobs out there.  Going into environmental, set me back 8 years.  It took me that long to get back to making the same salary I had before I got laid off in 1989.  So keep looking and good luck.


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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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