Difference Between Geologist & Petroleum Engineer

May 29, 2020

Comparing Geologists to Petroleum Engineers

Geologists and petroleum engineers are two positions that require a great deal of knowledge about rocks and the physical make-up of the surface of the Earth. While geologists study many areas that comprise our planet, from minerals to magnetic fields, petroleum engineers study the Earth's crust in order to create methods of extracting oil and gas. Other similarities and differences are explored below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2019)* Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Geologist Bachelor's Degree $92,040 (geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers) 6% (geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers)
Petroleum Engineer Bachelor's Degree $137,720 3%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Geologists vs. Petroleum Engineers

The science regarding the outer layer of the Earth's surface is at the core of the day-to-day work of both geologists and petroleum engineers. The difference lies in what is done with this science. The role of a geologist can be wide ranging, from researching the history of our planet to investigating areas that may be unsafe due to earthquakes and landslides. Petroleum engineers use their knowledge of geology to create methods of extracting oil and gas in economically beneficial ways for their companies.


The role of a geologist is defined by what field in which they find themselves working. Some geologists work in the field with scientific tools, such as seismographs, in order to study the history of the formation of Earth. Some work for private companies mapping land for extraction or determining the best materials for building supplies. Those interested in a more academic route may earn graduate degrees and become professors. Geologists must have a great deal of knowledge in various sciences, such as geology, chemistry and physics, as well as excellent communication skills. Geologists that work in the field must have a firm grasp of all safety regulations.

Job responsibilities of a geologist include:

  • Writing research articles to be published or presented at conferences
  • Maintaining geoscience databases
  • Overseeing laboratory testing
  • Using scientific knowledge to analyze photographs, field samples, and well logs

Petroleum Engineer

The designs and methods of extracting oil and gas from the Earth's surface are developed by petroleum engineers. These engineers help select sites and then test various drilling samples in an effort to decide the safest and most economically beneficial means of extracting the oil or gas. Some petroleum engineers work at drilling sites to oversee the use of drilling equipment and look for potential improvements. Engineers that work at sites will frequently travel and work outdoors, while others will spend the majority of their time in research facilities. A bachelor's degree in engineering is commonly the minimum requirement for becoming a petroleum engineer.

Job responsibilities of a petroleum engineer include:

  • Overseeing the production of pipelines
  • Analyzing tools and machines to look for potential improvements
  • Improving extraction results from older wells
  • Executing proper testing and surveys to learn the production of wells

Related Careers

Plenty of alternative career options are available to those interested in these positions. If you are intrigued by geologists who study the history of Earth, you may enjoy becoming an evolutionary biologist. If the engineering side of being a petroleum engineer sounds appealing, you may look into becoming a mechanical engineer.

How to Become an Evolutionary Biologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Mechanical Engineer: Mechanical Engineering Career Education

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