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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 87, No. 9 (September 2003), P. 1395-1410

Copyright copy2003. The American Association Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

Geological, geophysical, and other technical and soft skills needed by geoscientists employed in the North American petroleum industry

C. P. M. Heath1

11911 West 37th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, V6M 1N5; email: [email protected]


Heath earned his B.Sc. degree in geology from the University of British Columbia in 1960. This was followed by a year's graduate work in the University of British Columbia's Institute of Oceanography, an M.Sc. degree and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Illinois (1965), and an M.B.A. degree from Cranfield Institute of Technology, England in 1976.
In 1965, he joined Caltex's exploration arm, Amoseas, and from 1969 worked for Amoco until his retirement in 1995. During 30 years of international work, he lived, worked, and traveled all over the world: initially as an exploration geologist and later as a manager in new venture work and business development. His last position was president of business development for Africa and the Middle East based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Between 1995 and 1998, Heath was first a researcher at Edinburgh University, Scotland, and then an honorary professor in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Heath has been studying geoscience education since 1989. His research has been directed on bringing geoscience education in line with current needs by providing information that will help geoscience students in their career planning and aid geoscience departments in degree and curricula reviews. Heath is a member of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, the AAPG, and is a Fellow of the Geological Society.


This survey was made possible by the valuable contributions made by participating companies.

Their dedication to completing a very detailed survey is deeply appreciated. The author would like to thank Qingming Yang and John Lorenz, AAPG editor, for their useful and valuable suggestions when revising the manuscript. The author would also like to thank AAPG that provided partial funding for the research.


The range of skills needed by petroleum geoscientists has increased in both range and content over recent decades. Using survey data collected from 62 American and Canadian oil companies, the author assessed and ranked more than 150 geoscientific, computer, and soft skills, as well as other capabilities, to identify what companies now require.

According to respondents, the key components of a petroleum geoscientist's "skill profile" are knowledge of geology and geophysics (58%), computer science (18%), and certain nontechnical and soft skills that are essential in today's business environment (24%). Essential geoscientific skills are sedimentology, stratigraphy, petroleum geology, introductory geophysics, geophysical mapping, and interpretation and subsurface mapping techniques. Besides knowledge of basic computer operation skills, competency in presentation graphics and exposure to geoscience-specific computer operations are important. Key nontechnical and soft skills are critical thinking, willingness to learn, ethics, dependability, commitment, and initiative.

Key math and business skills needed in the petroleum workplace are identified and assessed. Finally, to aid geoscience students, some current recruiting trends and the importance of work experience are reviewed. Large companies, the principal recruiters of inexperienced graduates, commonly expect recruits to be highly competent in these areas.

Geoscience departments must ensure their curricula remain relevant if North America's oil industry is to remain competitive. Petroleum geoscience students must have knowledge of both geology and geophysics. More interdisciplinary courses need to be introduced, together with programs addressing business issues and soft skills, particularly ethics and teamwork. Internship or cooperative programs will help students gain some industry-related work experience prior to graduation.

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