What exactly does a Senior Geophysicist/Geoscientist/Seismic Interpreter do?

My job title varies depending on the company I work for, but the main task is interpreting seismic, which is an image of underground rocks made by analyzing echoes from sound pulses. Over the years the quality of the imaging has improved, but so has the expected detail of my analysis. This trend will continue.
My work is to identify the best places to drill for oil or gas. There are various kinds of underground traps and sometimes it is even possible to ‘see’ the hydrocarbons. My interpretation is combined with other geological data to produce a probabilistic risk assessment of the trap which my managers use to decide whether to drill.

Apart from formal qualifications, what other skills or characteristics do you need?

You need to have an interest in geology, and a willingness to work in teams, to tight deadlines, often without all the data (or time) you would like. Communication is vital, within the team, to your support staff and to management. The main method of reporting is a Powerpoint presentation. A reasonable level of computing skills is required; ie a willingness to teach yourself how to use new commercial packages, plus familiarity with all the usual desktop tools.

What sort of organisation do you work for?

I have recently been made redundant (a common phenomenon in this business – this time it was the strategic closure of my London office) after 9 years working for a Canadian company, and I now work for a South African company. My division is exploring for gas (not oil) internationally, with the aim of using it to feed GTL (gas-to-liquid) plants.

If this wasn’t your first job after your studies, what did you do in between?

My first job after my PhD was with Shell, who weren’t too fussy about the subject of the PhD (luckily). I worked for them in the Netherlands (5 months training plus a short project), then Oman (two years in the Muscat office, then one year Operations plus trips to the desert rigs, and then the UK (four years in London, then one year commuting weekly to Aberdeen after Shell closed the London office). I left Shell to join a London-based German firm, which was taken over two years later by a Canadian tar-sands company looking to diversify into conventional oil exploration. Seven years later they were in turn taken over by another Canadian company who chose to close the London office.

Do you travel within the UK or overseas very much?

It depends on the company and the project. I have worked overseas for Shell, and I have done many European business trips (Aberdeen, the Hague, Stavanger). Once every couple of years I have been on a field course as part of my training, and destinations for these can be all over the world.

Do you work a regular length day/week or are shifts involved?
Mainly the work is 9-5 when onshore, but I have worked on rigs where the work hours revolve around the requirements of 24 hour drilling. In the onshore offices, if there is a tight deadline (eg govt. Licence Rounds) it may be required to work much longer hours, but this is uncommon in my experience.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I still love finding out about the rocks beneath my feet, and the oil industry offers the extra pleasure of occasionally finding oil. The travel is enjoyable, when not excessive, and I have always enjoyed the company of my colleagues – many of whom are highly educated, and/or from overseas. The oil industry pays very well compared with many similar industries, and I enjoy that aspect as well!

What advice or extra information do you wish you’d had before starting this career?

More a case of what advice was I given that I should have acted upon – keep yourself up to date with all the latest techniques, even if they look like a short-term fad. You never know which new technology or methodology will turn out to be the future standard tool.

What position would you like to hold in five years’ time?

I have never been interested in pursuing a management path, so I intend to remain mainly technical until I retire. Most companies have learned to accommodate this desire, to a greater or lesser extent, in what is called a “technical ladder”, running in parallel to the lower part of the managerial track. I hope to reach the top of the technical ladder – two more grades to go, and 13 years until my retirement at 60.