Geology, and petroleum geology in particular, could be called ‘the creative science.’ This is because while our interpretations may be rooted in science they are often brought to life by the imagination and creative talents of the individual interpreter. Petroleum geologists are not only creative in their work but are often inventive, resourceful, and adventurous in the way they live their lives.
I have lived and worked in many different places, and have visited countries I could only dream about growing up in Yorkshire, England. I was surrounded by geology from a young age — from the Millstone Grit of Ilkley Moors where we had our Girl Guide camp outs, to the Vale of York where glacial till masks the underlying bedrock. I grew up appreciating the wonders of nature and had no doubt I would somehow end up working among them.
I did not intend to become a petroleum geologist, however. I went to Aston University to study botany and agriculture but one semester of geology had me hooked. After graduating I continued my studies and focused on hard rock geochemistry, learning a lot of useful techniques such as electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction analysis that allowed me to later transfer to soft rock geology and enter the oil business. Finally I was a petroleum geologist, albeit an inexperienced one.
Have hammer will travel!
I served my apprenticeship, so to speak, and learned much about the industry in Aberdeen and offshore in the North Sea. Then the excitement really started! Two postings to China, working in a dynamic and exciting business and cultural environment, and eating creatures I had never before considered edible. Then on to the United States where a move to Odessa, Texas proved almost as great a culture shock as the move to China. Then eight years in Perth, Australia. What great geology, what prolific gas fields, and what a spectacular place to live. The Aussies are lovely people with their ‘no worries’ and ‘she’ll be right’ culture.
Next, I moved back to Texas, to Houston, which is the heart and soul of the North American oil business. What a busy, crowded place! It was surely not Perth, but there were numerous opportunities and technical challenges there as we considered rocks that we once labelled unproductive ‘tombstone’ as potential reservoirs. I am now living and working as a consultant geologist in Stavanger, Norway. So it seems that life comes full circle and I am again working in the North Sea almost 30 years after I started as an inexperienced but enthusiastic petroleum geologist in Aberdeen. It is lovely to be close to my family in Yorkshire while at the same time enjoying another country and culture so different to those I have already been fortunate enough to experience.
What next and would I do it again?
Petroleum geology is a creative science but also a traveller’s science. Does all this travel make you a better geologist? Absolutely! If you subscribe to the adage, as I do, that the ‘the best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks’ then it’s clear you must take every chance to be adventurous.
Would I do anything differently if I had the chance? No, but if you’re thinking of joining this industry you need to know that times are not always good and the nature of our work can be cyclical, in tune with economic booms and busts. The defence against this is to have a second string to your bow — develop transferable skills such as teaching or writing. Always be open to change, new opportunities, new places, and taking risks to follow your passion.
Finally, I think this quote succinctly describes what we do far better than I ever could:
No geologist worth anything is permanently bound to a desk or laboratory, but the charming notion that true science can only be based on unbiased observation of nature in the raw is mythology. Creative work, in geology and anywhere else, is interaction and synthesis: half-baked ideas from a bar room, rocks in the field, chains of thought from lonely walks, numbers squeezed from rocks in a laboratory, numbers from a calculator riveted to a desk, fancy equipment usually malfunctioning on expensive ships, cheap equipment in the human cranium, arguments before a road cut.
Stephen Jay Gould
Gould, S J (1987). An Urchin in the Storm: Essays about Books and Ideas. W W Norton and Company. 255 p.