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Geosciences - Piecing the Puzzle Together
The world of petroleum starts with a basic— yet tough— question: “Where is the oil?” Solving this puzzle requires the right blend of analytical skills, imagination, and a keen ability to make observations.
Geoscientists offer exactly this mix. They are trained to discover, explore, and help develop new oil and gas reserves. It’s not a simple task, since reserves are in places not easily visible or accessible; usually they are thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s surface!
Geologists and geophysicists are both types of geoscientists. Both are involved in the exploration and production phases of petroleum, and they often work together to solve puzzles. But, they contribute different skills and different views. Geologists explore the nature and structure of rock layers.
They use some surface clues, like natural gas seeps (places where oil or natural gas escapes to the surface) and outcrops (surface exposures of rock layers). The most important clues are hidden underground.
Using geological maps, geophysical data, and tiny specks of rock brought up by drill rigs, geologists study the subsurface. They combine all this information to create maps, complex cross sections, and other graphics to piece together a whole picture of the subsurface.
Oil usually forms in one geological layer, and then migrates into a different, usually more porous layer called the reservoir rock. Finally, other rock layers “trap” the petroleum in the reservoir.
To find oil or natural gas, geoscientists search for places where these subsurface puzzle pieces come together in just the right way. More often than not, that’s thousands of feet underground. How do the geoscientists find the oil? They look for clues anyway they can.
Geophysicists use technology, rather than direct observation, to reveal what the subsurface is like. Seismic exploration is the most important geophysical tool. This uses explosions to send sound waves into Earth. The sound waves echo off different subsurface layers in different ways.
Geophysicists read seismic profiles to identify geological boundaries and structures. They also have other ways of exploring the subsurface, such as measuring gravitational and magnetic characteristics of rocks deep underground.
When asked about his favorite tool, Shell geophysicist Kevin Frye points to 3-D visualization. “I think that some of the 3-D visualization tools (large room, big screen, software, 3-D goggles) allow me to effectively show the geology of my study areas,” he says.
Piecing the Puzzle Together
Clue by clue, using teamwork and cool tools like 3-D visualization, geoscientists learn what lays hidden deep underground, and even beneath the oceans.
Once new oil fields are located, there’s plenty more for geoscientists to do. It’s a technical and creative challenge, and different every day. A geoscientist’s job doesn’t end once they find a reserve, either.
They must help determine if the new reserve is worth developing from an economic standpoint. If it is, they become part of the production team, finding the most effective way to extract the petroleum from a particular geologic and physical setting.
So, You Want to be a Geoscientist at Shell?
Cutting edge technology. Old-fashioned detective work. Teamwork and imagination. Think you might want a career in geosciences? If you appreciate the natural world, love maps, and are observant and curious, you already have a good start. In high school, focus on Earth Sciences, math (including calculus, at least in college) and physics.
Strong math is especially important for geophysicists. GIS (Geographic Information System) is an increasingly important and powerful tool, so look for courses in this computer application. Future geoscientists will also benefit from courses in economics, foreign languages, and communication.
You can prepare for a career in geosciences in other ways. Visit the geology department at a local college; meet more geoscientists at the links below, and even find out about conferences and lectures at various Web sites including http://www.aapg.org/member/student/index.cfm.