They also play an important part in preparing areas for production, get involved in the drilling process itself, and have a vital role in making sure things run safely and efficiently.
Subsurface specialists working in the energy industry may have a range of job titles including Petroleum Geoscientists (geologists and geophysicists), Engineers (Petroleum and Reservoir) and Technologists.
The UK industry
More than 5000 people are employed by UK companies working in oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and at sites across the globe. UK universities have a good track record in training future professionals in this area. Many people who trained in the UK choose to live and work overseas.
There are a range of career opportunities for subsurface professionals in many different types of company.
As well as large, well-known oil companies such as BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron, there are a number of smaller-scale companies with offices in the UK, mostly the Aberdeen or London area. There are also a wide range of consultancy and servicing companies that support production companies.
Some graduates choose to join banks and investment companies that specialise in the oil and gas sector.
There are a range of careers open to subsurface professionals in the oil and gas industry. Alongside geology, most companies will accept applications from people with a high-quality science degree or post-graduate qualification.
A geoscientist interprets geophysical, geochemical and geological data to develop models of the earth’s subsurface with the aim of discovering commercially viable and exploitable reserves of natural resources, such as oil and gas.
Petrophysics is the study of the physical and chemical properties of natural resources such as rocks, soil and fluids. Petrophysicists analyse reservoirs of these materials and help engineers determine the best areas and procedures for drilling and excavation.
These comprise two main groups – petroleum and reservoir engineers. Petroleum Engineers typically focus on short term production and subsurface operational issues in producing fields, whilst Reservoir Engineers typically focus on the management or reservoirs.
Life as a Geoscientist
As a Geoscientist you may be involved in some of the following activities:
- frontier exploration with fieldwork in remote areas to assess the potential for oil,
- exploration and drilling of new wildcat wells,
- working with Subsurface Engineers and Petrophysicists to appraise, develop and produce discoveries,
- acquiring, processing and interpreting data from drilling new wells,
- geophysical (seismic) programmes,
- reservoir production and field outcrop studies.
Where do Geoscientists work?
You may work in new frontier areas such as the Falkland Islands or West Africa or existing mature oil and gas provinces such as the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
Getting into the industry
A good-quality undergraduate degree is the minimum you will need to secure a job as a geoscientist in the oil and gas industry. In order to get onto a good degree course you are likely to need to have gained good grades in science subjects at advanced higher level. Mathematics is essential in engineering, petrophsics and geophysics and is desirable when applying to study geology.
Geology qualifications may also help you study at the university of your choice, though few schools teach geology to advanced level. Whilst it isn’t essential to have in-depth subsurface knowledge it may well help to read up on the subject before applying to university.
Those with good degrees (first-class, or high second-class degrees with proven ability) from universities with a good reputation in the field are more likely to find employment in the energy industry. Those with lower-level qualifications or qualifications from institutions without a proven track record in this area are more likely to be employed in supporting roles.