Geophysicists working the oil industry may be employed by service companies or oil and gas companies (‘operators’). They can be involved in the early stages of a project during data acquisition and at the later stages of a project developing an oil/gas field as well as phases in between.

Within a service company, geophysicists would be involved with the acquisition and/or processing of seismic data. Seismic data are one of the primary data types used by the oil industry; they are acquired by propagating sound waves in to the subsurface and recording them at the surface either on land or at sea. Geophysicists would be involved in the acquisition of seismic data and be responsible for QC of the data. Once seismic data have been acquired, they are processed by geophysicists to maximize the usable signal and reduce noise. The processed data can then be interpreted by geologists and geophysicists in oil and gas companies.

Within an operator, a geophysicist’s role may be broadly split between Exploration, Development and Technical. An Exploration Geophysicist would work within a team of Earth Scientists looking to identify prospects that could be hydrocarbon bearing. A geophysicist’s role would include interpretation of seismic data to identify structures that may contain trapped hydrocarbons. They may also use other data sources such as gravity and magnetics. Geophysicists also build models of the subsurface and characterize uncertainty in these models. Integrating this information as well as other geological and well data allows the Earth Science team to make assessment of a prospect’s ‘chance of success’.

A Development Geophysicist works on a discovered oil and/or gas field. Again, they would be working in a team of Earth Scientists as well as with engineers. Their role would be to understand the dynamics of the reservoir leading to the identification of the next drilling target within the field to maximize the volume of hydrocarbons produced. Geophysicists would provide inputs to static and dynamic field models that help with this target identification.

A Technical Geophysicist is a more specialized role in which a geophysicist would focus on a specific area within geophysics. This could be analyzing seismic data in detail to determine rock and fluid properties; building Earth models; and assessing new technologies.

Relevant school subjects

  • Maths
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • English
  • Computing

Relevant degree subjects

  • Geophysics
  • Physics
  • Maths

Geophysicists working in the oil industry often have an undergraduate physics or maths background and go on to specialize in geophysics at Master’s degree or PhD level.