Geological and petroleum technicians provide support to scientists and engineers in exploring and extracting natural resources, such as minerals, oil, and natural gas.

Duties

Geological and petroleum technicians typically do the following:

  • Install and maintain laboratory and field equipment
  • Gather samples such as rock, mud, and soil in the field and prepare samples for laboratory analysis
  • Conduct scientific tests on samples to determine their content and characteristics
  • Record data from tests and compile information from reports, computer databases, and other sources
  • Prepare reports and maps that can be used to define geological characteristics of areas that may have valuable resources
  • Monitor well exploration activities, and record data such as well temperatures and pressures
  • Document their investigations and compare actual productivity with their estimates

Geological and petroleum technicians tend to specialize in either working in the field and in laboratories, or working in offices where they analyze data. However, many technicians have duties that overlap into multiple areas.

In the field, geological and petroleum technicians use sophisticated equipment such as seismic instruments and gravity-measuring devices to gather geological data. They also use tools to collect samples of rock and other materials for scientific analysis. In laboratories, these technicians analyze the samples for evidence of hydrocarbons, useful metals, or precious gemstones.

Geological and petroleum technicians use computers to analyze data from samples collected in the field and from previous research. They use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to map geological data; this creates a visual representation and makes the data easier to understand. The results of their analysis may explain a new site’s potential for further exploration and development, or may focus on monitoring the current and future productivity of an existing site.

Geological and petroleum technicians work on geological prospecting and surveying teams under the supervision of scientists and engineers, who evaluate the work for accuracy and make final decisions about current and potential production sites. Geologic and petroleum technicians might work with scientists and technicians in other fields. For example, geological and petroleum technicians might work with environmental scientists and technicians to monitor the environmental impact of drilling and other activities.

Work Environment

Geological and petroleum technicians held about 15,800 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most geological and petroleum technicians in 2012 were as follows:

Support activities for mining 30%
Oil and gas extraction 19
Engineering services 11
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 7
Chemical and allied products merchant wholesalers 5

In 2012, almost half of all technicians were employed in Texas because of the large amount of resource extraction activity.

Geological and petroleum technicians spend most of their time in the field and in laboratories, or analyzing data in offices. Fieldwork requires technicians to work outdoors, sometimes in remote locations, where they are exposed to all types of weather. In addition, technicians may need to stay on location in the field for days or weeks to collect data and monitor equipment. Geological and petroleum technicians who work in offices spend most of their time working on computers organizing and analyzing data, writing reports, and producing maps.

Work Schedules

Most geological and petroleum technicians work full time. Technicians generally work a standard schedule in laboratories and offices, but hours spent in the field may be long or irregular.

 

Education and Training

Most employers prefer applicants who have an associate’s degree or 2 years of postsecondary training in applied science or science-related technology. Geological and petroleum technicians also receive on-the-job training.

Education

Although some entry-level positions require only a high school diploma, most employers prefer applicants who have at least an associate’s degree or 2 years of postsecondary training in applied science or a science-related technology. Geological and petroleum technician jobs that are data intensive or otherwise highly technical may require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Many community colleges and technical institutes offer programs in geosciences, petroleum, mining, or a related technology such as geographic information systems (GIS). Community colleges offer associate’s degree programs designed to provide an easy transition to bachelor’s degree programs at colleges and universities; such programs can be useful for future career advancement.

Technical institutes typically offer 1-year certificate programs and 2-year associate’s degree programs. Technical institutes offer technical training that usually includes less theory and offers fewer general education courses than community colleges.

Regardless of the degree program, most students take classes in geology, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, and physics. Many schools also offer internships and cooperative-education programs that help students gain experience while attending school. Jobseekers who have this type of experience may have better prospects.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Geological and petroleum technicians examine data, using a variety of complex techniques, including laboratory experimentation and computer modeling.

Communication skills. Geological and petroleum technicians explain their methods and findings through oral and written reports to scientists, engineers, managers, and other technicians. Therefore, they must speak and write clearly.

Critical-thinking skills. Geological and petroleum technicians must use their best judgment when interpreting scientific data and determining what is relevant to their work.

Interpersonal skills. Geological and petroleum technicians need to be able to work well with others and as part of a team.

Physical stamina. To do fieldwork, geological and petroleum technicians need to be in good physical shape to hike to remote locations while carrying testing and sampling equipment.

Training

Most geological and petroleum technicians receive on-the-job training under the supervision of technicians who have more experience. During training, new technicians gain hands-on experience using field and laboratory equipment, as well as computer programs such as modeling and mapping software. The length of training can vary with the technician’s previous experience, education, and specifics of the job.

Pay

The median annual wage for geological and petroleum technicians was $52,700 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,940, and the top 10 percent earned more than $99,300.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for geological and petroleum technicians in the top five industries employing these technicians were as follows:

Petroleum and coal products manufacturing $85,110
Oil and gas extraction 70,920
Chemical and allied products merchant wholesalers 53,490
Support activities for mining 47,670
Engineering services 45,040

Most geological and petroleum technicians work full time. Technicians generally work a standard schedule while in laboratories and offices, but hours spent in the field may be long or irregular.

Job Outlook

Employment of geological and petroleum technicians is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. High prices for oil and strong demand for natural gas is expected to increase demand for geological exploration and extraction in the future.  

Oil prices are likely to increase over time, as they have in the past. In addition, future demand for cheap energy will likely cause natural gas prices to increase before 2022. These expected price increases will support current and future exploration.

Since geological and petroleum technicians are sometimes involved in ongoing production processes, such as monitoring a well’s productivity, more of these workers will be needed as production increases. Demand for exploration of resources such as coal, metals, and other mined goods is generally expected to continue as it has historically, or increase over the projection period. This growth will be due to growing world population and the growth of the middle class worldwide.

Job Prospects

The best job prospects will be for those technicians who have hands-on training, through an internship, and technical skills in computer programs such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

For More Information

For more information about careers in geology, visit

American Geosciences Institute

For more information about careers in oil and gas exploration, visit

American Association of Petroleum Geologists

Society of Petroleum Engineers

For more information about careers in coal and mineral extraction, visit

National Mining Association

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

Holland Code

Building
Thinking
Organizing

Median Pay

$52,700

Projected Growth

15%

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