Petroleum Geologist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Mar 28, 2021

Petroleum geologists deal with natural reserves on both land and sea, where they are responsible for gauging how much combustible fuel can be extracted. They use sophisticated technology to locate and analyze these reserves, including satellite and sonar devices. Many employers prefer hiring petroleum geologists who have completed a master's degree over candidates who may have only completed a bachelor's degree.

Essential Information

Petroleum geologists are scientists who focus on the extraction and estimation of oil, gas and other combustible resources buried in the Earth. These professionals often need a master's degree and sufficient professional experience.

Required Education Master's degree preferred
Other Requirements Voluntary certification and knowledge of GIS and GPS
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) 5% (for all geoscientists)*
Average Salary (2019) $108,350 annually (for geoscientists in the oil and gas extraction industry)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Petroleum Geologist Job Description

Petroleum geologists are primarily concerned with determining the location and amount of combustible fuel in sediments on land or in the ocean. This job requires a geologist to understand the origin of the fuel, the amount of fuel in the reservoir, the fuel's 'maturity' or concentration, the movement of fuel underground and obstacles that impede or expedite that movement. Petroleum geologists utilize a variety of techniques to discover this information, including geochemical analysis, ground-based sonar to discover reservoirs or satellite mapping. In some cases, petroleum geologists may work side-by-side with oil companies in the supervising of the oil extraction process.

Petroleum Geologist Duties

Generally, the duty of a petroleum geologist is to discover the location and amount of useful fuel in sediments or reservoirs. Geologists in this occupation may be required to interpret geophysical information in project reports, conduct field studies to analyze project data, accurately estimate fuel amounts, interpret and implement drilling strategies for extraction and create post-project reports summarizing the project.

Requirements for a Petroleum Geologist

The educational requirements for a petroleum geologist can depend on the particular hiring company. Specific certifications and knowledge of the industry can help improve employment opportunities.


Many petroleum geologists acquire a master's degree in the geosciences, and employers may prefer applicants with a master's degree over applicants with a bachelor's degree. Masters degrees may include courses in mathematics, geophysics, hydrology and other core geoscience courses. Additionally, education in economics, reservoir engineering, oil property valuation and computer programming are helpful optional classes for petroleum geology majors.

The thesis is an important aspect of a petroleum geologist's master's program. The thesis consists of thoroughly researching an original topic and writing and defending a write-up on the results. A thesis prepares petroleum geologists to tackle the large amount of technical reports, project proposals and correspondence associated with the occupation.

Doctorate (Ph.D.) degrees are available and are generally geared towards geologists who wish to teach and research at the university level.

Licensure and Certification

Some states require petroleum geologists to obtain a license if they deal directly with the public. Voluntary certification can be obtained through an accredited agency, such as the American Association of Petroleum Geologist's (AAPG) Division of Professional Affairs, which administers the Certification for Petroleum Geology (CPG). Certifications may enable geologist to have a step up in employment opportunities.

Additional Requirements

Knowledge of geographic information systems (GIS) and the global positioning system (GPS) is strongly recommended. Petroleum geologists may rely heavily on data collected using these programs. Petroleum geologists should also have good inter-personal skills since they may be required to work as a team with other geoscientists. Sometimes these teams work internationally and require a geologist to learn a foreign language.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), geoscientists, including petroleum geologists, could experience 5% employment growth during the 2019-2029 decade, with many job openings expected in the oil and gas industry. The BLS also reported that in May 2019, the average yearly salary for geoscientists in general was $108,350. The management of companies and enterprises was one of the top-paying employers in 2019, with average yearly wages of $176,530, and architectural, engineering, and related services had the highest employment level of geoscientists.

Petroleum geologists often conduct research in the field in order to obtain data for reports and analysis. They may be in charge of drilling initiatives at a fuel reserve, and many work directly with an oil company while extraction is taking place. Some petroleum geologists are fluent in more than one language, which is often a requirement for scientists working abroad.

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