Wednesday, April 23, 2008

AAPG meeting: Six-figure starting salaries hit the oil industry

All week in San Antonio I've been hearing from geology professors stories about their graduate students getting job offers of $100,000 or more to work in the petroleum industry. Every where I went in the meeting, there was evidence of the frantic bidding wars to grab hold of professional talent. A lot of the exhibitors in the convention center posted signs saying they are hiring. A fair number of my colleagues have taken new jobs in recent months, presumably finding better postings, better opportunities, better locations, and I suspect, bigger salaries, bonuses, and over-rides.

Geologists with Blackberries in hand would announce the price of oil ("$117!" "$119!") to whoever was in listening range.

I had lunch with a professor colleague and a recently graduated student who took a job with a large independent in Oklahoma. She described the campus-like setting of their new building, the company teams (rowing, bowling, etc) that she joined, and it started sounding like the Silicon Valley start-up environments.

Some profs are describing huge influxes of grad students into geology, but most are not. They are not seeing the undergrad populations rising either. But given the barrage of news stories around the country, I imagine the word is starting to sink in. The anecdotal stories we are all bringing back from the AAPG meeting will help spread the word about this latest boom.

A few of my seasoned colleagues who went through at least one of the industry downturns of the past few decades are offering cautionary notes to their alma maters. But with offers of $80-100K, how many are worrying about that?


  1. Anonymous9:37 AM

    Still not that many good jobs out there for those with a geology degree. Fewer and fewer as the economy struggles.

  2. Anonymous6:00 PM

    With an MS or above, the job outlook is absolutely fantastic, as the article says.

  3. Anonymous1:12 PM

    MS- required!!

  4. Anonymous1:53 AM

    If I have a structural geology MS Wyoming Foreland thesis) from the late 1990's and 20 years in the environmental field what kind of salary can I expect? A friend in similar situation got $120K but he had 2 years experience as a Schlumberger logger back in the mid1980's. ANy thoughts?

  5. Anonymous1:59 AM

    If I have an MS in Structural Geology (Wyoming Foreland thesis) and 20 years in the environmental business what type of salary can I expect in the natural gas industry? I stil have all of the basic geology skills but advanced communications skills.

  6. I don't know that I can answer that in any meaningful way. I continue to hear from colleagues of starting salaries over $80K and as high as $120K, along with signing bonuses, relocation, etc.

    Now, whether a company will view 20 years in the environmental field as a plus or if they might be concerned that it's tough to teach an old dog new tricks, could vary from company to company.

    Earlier this week, at MINExpo, with 40,000 attendees, I stopped by the exhibit booth of one of the largest mining companies to talk to them about activities in Arizona. The person I wanted to talk to wasn't there, but a company recruiter was, and she started grilling me about quitting my job and joining them. She did this without knowing who I was or my background or training. I definitely got the message that they need professionals.

    I occasionally see a note from head hunters looking for senior geologic personnel, mostly in the oil sector. With the right skill sets, salaries up to $200K with stock options or other perks seem possible. I've seen even higher salaries mentioned, but they may be for highly targeted select individuals for special openings.

  7. I am now studying geology at Hacettepe uni. in my home country Turkey, and i'm interested in a masters programme across USA. I've studied at Vrije Uni. Amsterdam as an Erasmus Exchange student for one semester. Can you inform me about the scolarship opportinuties and universities that accept foreign studetns at USA. what are my chances to fint a good masters programe there?

  8. Anonymous8:01 PM

    hi allison!! im from india. i am pursuing my bachelors in mechanical and i want to do my masters in oil and gas engineering and australia.many ppl say that the job opportunities are very less there. can you just help me with this. how good is career opportunities for oil and gas engineers??

  9. Janu, I asked some colleagues who are more active in the oil and gas arena these days for a response to your question. Chandra S. Rai, who is Director of the School of Petroleum & Geological Engineering at the Univ. of Oklahoma, said "My guess is that 10 to 15% of our graduate students have undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. Most of them are doing very well in our program. Most of the Petroleum Engineering schools do admit students with any engineering degree to their graduate program. Some schools require such students to take few undergraduate petroleum engineering courses and do not. Our school does not have such a requirement but we do require GRE test scores."

    As for job prospects, Chandra also opined that "The job market was very good till a month back. Now due to low oil prices and other economic conditions it is not that hot. International students always have a harder time getting job."

  10. Anonymous8:53 AM

    i think oil is fun to play in

  11. Anonymous7:31 PM

    Mr Allison I am currently a geosceince student at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Tx. With the world leaning towards a "green" way of life, I was wondering what your thoughts were about
    geo-thermal technologies?

  12. There is definitely a push for alternative energy and geothermal has the benefits of 24/7 production (vs wind and solar which are limited or intermittent), and big potential.

    Overall, I see the field as offering mixed opportunities in the near to mid-term. Huge potential but it may be a while before exploitation results in significant growth.

    It's still a small field at present relative to other geoscience employers, so even big percentage increases in the number of people in it, may not offer that many new jobs.

    The federal investment in geothermal this year is a huge increase and harkens back to the late 1970s after the initial OPEC oil embargo. There could be a sudden demand in the field for the next couple of years as a result.

    But the word among my colleagues is that effective deployment of Enhanced Geothermal Systems may be a decade off yet.

    I've been through a couple of cycles of employment boom and bust in the geosciences, so no matter what field you want to specialize in, make sure you have broad skills that allow you to adapt to changing needs of the marketplace.

  13. Anonymous1:57 PM

    We are always looking for new talent.

  14. Michael S.4:22 AM

    I am living in Dallas, with a BA in Geology,a BBA in Finance, 20 years in exploration, and from Shreveport. I am havng a hard time finding a job!

    Michael S.

  15. I am graduating this december with a third Masters degree in petroleum geoscience and other two being in geology and geo-technology what salary shall I ask for to E & P companies ? please let me know the range?

  16. I am graduating with a third Masters degree in Petroleum Geo-Science, the other two degrees being M.S. in Geology and Geo-Technology. i am graduating in December 2010. What salary shall i ask for to the E&P companies? please let me know the range?

  17. Shilpa, AAPG's annual salary review published in April, gives a good sense of ranges in the petroleum industry based on experience and degrees -

    For geologist jobs across all fields, look at

  18. Anonymous5:37 PM

    I have a Bsc /Geology I had graduated in Africa ,and currently leaving in Dallas ,what can I do in order to work as Geologist here ,Kindly advise

  19. Anonymous, it's hard to know your situation. I assume you have the ability to work in the US. Dallas is one of the centers of the nation's oil industry, although more of it has been moving to Houston in the past decade.

    The oil industry typically looks for MS level students although there are technician level jobs in the oil companies and oil service companies that often require only a BS.

    The mining industry is in jobs slump right now but it varies somewhat by commodity and locality.

    You might be well served by attending meetings of the local professional societies - they are great places to network and get to know the local geologic employment situation.