The terms “Petroleum Geology” and “Petroleum Engineering” have been around since the boom in the oil and gas industry. But you should ask yourself, is there any difference between a Geologist and a Petroleum Geologist? Can a Professional Geologist perform the same tasks as a specialized Professional Petroleum Geologist? To answer these questions, we need to understand the basics of petroleum geology and why it is important to our modern day energy needs.
Multidisciplinary Subject Matter
If you search the term “geology” you will come across several different definitions. One of which would be; Geology a science that studies the solid Earth and its life forms though past and current processes recorded in minerals and rocks. The key term in this particular definition is the processes. The idea of studying processes has been around even before the growth in petroleum industry. At least a basic understanding of geological and geophysical processes is very important to petroleum industry. Such information is valuable in predicting petroleum fluid accumulation zones which have economic significance. As natural resources become scarce, we need better methods for exploration and exploitation of sought after resources. We realized geology itself cannot find answers to these scientific and economic challenges. Hence to reduce costs associated with exploration and extraction of natural resources, specialization of Petroleum Geology was born. Specialization does not mean a student only learn one aspect of geology. For example, the petroleum geology program at the University of Calgary encompasses structural geology, geochemistry, physics, biology and many other disciplines with emphasis on their relation to petroleum industry.
The petroleum Geologists are responsible for understanding the processes of petroleum source rock formation, fluid migration patterns, reservoir characteristics, hydrocarbon traps and structural or stratigraphic trap mechanisms. It is the job of the petroleum geologist to use such knowledge to advice oil and gas companies on where to find reservoirs and how to extract hydrocarbons economically.
Tools and Tricks of the Trade
There are many tools and tricks currently used by geoscientists (the term “geoscientist” is used as an umbrella for geologists, geophysicists, engineers, earth scientists, environmental scientists, etc) to understand the Earth.
The most fundamental knowledge comes from previous studies. Typically oil and gas companies keep large databases of previously published research projects, textbooks and other materials available to their geoscientists. The Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta also keep records of core samples and well logs from projects across the country. These resources are utmost important petroleum geologist because use of such information can minimize the possibility of making incorrect decisions.
Education, past experiences and the quality of past experiences also play a major role in success of a petroleum geologist. A geologist who is capable of understanding the basics of math, physics, chemistry, biology and structural systems trend to outshine his/her peers. This is because hydrocarbon reservoirs are dynamic in nature. Not only a petroleum geologist has to successfully predict deposit locations, but also has to be able to provide information on dynamic factors such as fluid migration during a hydrocarbon extraction project. You cannot simply find the reservoir and then walk out of it and if it is that the case, most petroleum geologists would be out of work in few years. This is why the specialization Petroleum Geology is important. While a typical geologist would be able to perform the same tasks, the specialization may help companies expedite the decision making process.
Technologically we use variety of tools to achieve our goals. Petroleum geologists and geophysics probably use more technologies than most other specializations in geosciences. For example, petrophyscial techniques on wireline well logs are used to interpret lithologies and fluid types in subsurface using software programs such as PowerLog, Petrel, AccuMap, etc. These software are also used for producing geological maps with interpreted data for exploration and development. Companies typically hire technical school graduates for software operations and maintenance. However, for advanced interpretations it is necessary to hire geology (or geoscience) graduates. One of the major problems with software use is that they often over or under predict multiple parameters resulting in naturally imposable interpretations. These can result in completely incorrect or incoherent simulations of reservoirs. This is where the education and experience of a professional geologist can make a difference. A professional geologist should be able to rectify such issues before it is too late by identifying these anomalies during the early stage of petroleum exploration and development.
We need Petroleum Geologists
Yes, a good geologist with no additional petroleum training may be able to perform the same task, but when you are working on a multimillion dollar project, you would want to hire geologists with specialized training and experience. This is because one mistake could cost a company millions in revenue loss. A petroleum geologist who has specialized training and/or experience in the oil and gas industry could make the difference between a successful profitable project and a complete disaster.
How would you become a Petroleum Geologist?
The term “Petroleum Geology” is very board. Anyone can identify themselves as petroleum geologist including those with engineering and other related degrees, certifications and professional experience. With proper training and experience and engineer or a technician can act as a petroleum geologist. However, there are several universities such as the University of Calgary currently offers petroleum geology classes and specialization degrees. In a competitive job market, having such courses and degrees definitely help you get into the industry much quicker than those who do not have such backgrounds.
It is important to highlight that having a degree in petroleum geology or by taking petroleum classes does not make a person a proficient professional petroleum geologist. Success comes down to the competency, professionalism and experience.