Exploration Geologist Job Description
Exploration geologists use a variety of measurement methods and technologies, including seismic measurements and soil samples, to identify mineral deposits beneath the earth for extraction. While this role exists in many industries, exploration geologists tend to find employment with natural gas or petroleum companies, where they help identify drilling sites that offer large deposits with low risk.
This is a highly analytical role that balances direct field work and site visits with computer-aided analysis and data modeling. Exploration geologists play an important role in both identifying and testing sites and ensuring that minerals can be extracted without causing surface-level damage.
Exploration Geologist Duties and Responsibilities
Exploration geologists tend to have several core duties that exist across industries:
Conduct Site Surveys
Exploration geologists visit potential drilling sites to evaluate their viability for mineral extraction. The exploration geologist uses a variety of tools and methods that can include drilling and magnetic and seismic measurements to determine the size and shape of a mineral deposit in order to determine whether their company should spend resources to extract those minerals.
Perform Soil and Mineral Tests
In addition to measuring the surface and underground areas of a potential extraction site, exploration geologists also perform extensive testing of soil and rock samples collected from the site. They may examine the contents of a drilling sample using a spectrograph, for example, to look at its composition and find signs of mineral deposits or test the soil for indicators.
Analyze Geological Data
Exploration geologists use geological records and existing data to support their findings and hypotheses. This process can include studying erosion and drainage patterns to locate irregularities that may indicate the presence of mineral deposits. Exploration geologists also use this data to explore the effects of extraction.
Prepare Site Models and Reports
Data modeling software and collaboration with cartographers and surveyors helps exploration geologists prepare site models and develop reports for engineers and supervisors. These reports include information about the amount of minerals that the geologist believes exist in a specific site, along with information on the processes the geologist used to arrive at this hypothesis.
Identify Extraction Risks
While conducting site visits, testing, and modeling, geologists also determine the risks associated with extracting the minerals. They may analyze soil and stone density and conduct assessments related to settling that may occur post-extraction, or prepare reports related to the effects of extraction on local groundwater. Additionally, the exploration geologist may devise strategies to mitigate these risks.
Exploration Geologist Skills and Qualifications
Exploration geologists use a variety of tools and techniques to locate and identify mineral deposits below the ground. Companies tend to hire candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree, proven field experience, and the following skills:
- Geological surveying – exploration geologists should be familiar with a variety of methodologies for gathering geological data, including utilizing remote sensing and GIS data to identify areas for extraction
- Computer skills – after gathering data, exploration geologists use a variety of computerized methods to compile and analyze information, so they should have some familiarity with mapping and modeling software
- Analytical thinking – this role requires a high level of analysis, as exploration geologists conduct rigorous tests of soil and rock samples and examine the results of site testing
- Collaboration – exploration geologists work with cartographers and engineers throughout the site analysis and selection process, so they should be able to effectively collaborate and share ideas
- Communication skills – exploration geologists also need strong written and verbal communication skills to provide reports to engineers and supervisors and share their findings
Tools of the Trade
Exploration geologists tend to split their time between office and field work, so they should be able to use standard office equipment in addition to the following tools:
- Measurement tools (GIS remote sensing equipment, seismographic tools)
- Data and modeling software (ModFlow, Petrel)
Exploration Geologist Education and Training
Generally, exploration geologists have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Some companies prefer to hire candidates with advanced degrees in geology, such as a master’s or a doctorate degree in geology. Most exploration geologists have significant experience with geology field work that may be related to identifying underground mineral deposits. In some locations, exploration geologists may also need to earn a license.
Exploration Geologist Salary and Outlook
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide salary data specifically for exploration geologists, its estimates for geological and petroleum technicians may provide a helpful starting point. The BLS found that geological and petroleum technicians earn a median annual salary of $54,190. However, since exploration geologists tend to be more specialized, the estimates provided by Glassdoor may provide a more accurate rate. Glassdoor found that exploration geologists earn an average annual salary of $61,333 based on 2,193 reported salaries. Pay for exploration geologists working with major petroleum companies tends to be well over $100,000 per year.
The BLS expects employment for geological and petroleum technicians to grow at a much faster-than-average rate of 16 percent through 2026.
We searched the web and found a number of resources if you’d like to learn more about working as an exploration geologist or connect with others in the field:
Society of Economic Geologists – SEG is a worldwide professional organization for geologists who work within the mineral discovery and extraction industries, providing news on industry trends and career development opportunities
Mineral Exploration: Practical Application – read this in-depth guide to learn about the geological principles and real-world practices of exploration geology and mineral extraction
The American Association of Petroleum Geologists – this professional and industry group is for exploration geologists who work within the petroleum industry, which is one of the largest employment sectors for this role
Nontechnical Guide to Petroleum Geology, Exploration, Drilling & Production – author Norman J. Hyne provides a clear and concise introduction to exploration geology as it relates to the petroleum industry
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