Petroleum Geologist Salaries
How Much Do Petroleum Geologists Make?
There is a lot of bad information out there concerning geologist salaries. How much does a petroleum geologist make?”
As in most fields, there are wide ranges in salaries between professionals. Everyone knows neurosurgeons get paid more than general practitioners. Or, that corporate lawyers usually bring home more dough than the small-town attorney who draws up wills and deeds. These differences are expected, are normal, and are based on supply and demand. The same factors apply to the various geologic specialties. Petroleum geology is a high-paid specialty.
The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) is the world’s largest professional geological society. Every year the AAPG conducts a professional survey, published in their tabloid, AAPG Explorer, that surveys the salaries of geologists employed in the petroleum businesses. The AAPG’s numbers are the most accurate for petroleum geologists.
With that in mind, take a look at the table below. It covers the salary period of 2016. Amounts are in US dollars.
2016 Petroleum Geologist Salaries (Source: AAPG Explorer. Does not include bonuses, benefits, autos, consulting fees, retainers, or overrides).
The Salary Survey Shows Base Pay Only!
The annual AAPG salary survey is based on employed, salaried geoscientists, and is based on salaries alone. It does not include bonuses, stock options, benefits, autos, profit-sharing, or other perquisites. It does not include anyone whose compensation is in the form of consulting fees, retainers or overrides, which are quite common in the industry. The survey is based on U.S. salaries only, though American expats working in foreign countries will virtually always be paid American rates, usually more.
Total Salaries Are Very Competitive
Various benefits and packages may add 30% or more to the base pay. Many petroleum geologists work for smaller energy companies that pay substantial bonuses, often 20-40% of salary each year. Stock options are also a very common form of compensation. Coupled with generous matching contributions to 401K’s (100% at at least one company I know of), the experienced petroleum geologist may find herself making a very competitive salary, doing a job she loves to do, often with no management responsibilities — which is usually considered to be a plus! Good geologists need virtually no supervision, once they are told what the objectives of the company are.
One poll found that geologists ranked #2 in job satisfaction out of all professions — I can’t remember who was #1, and it’s consistently ranked in the Top Ten fields salary-wise. After meeting hundreds of geologists over the years, I can say that people who fall into geology naturally, as opposed to finding a ‘high-paying’ career — (as most do) are extremely satisfied with their profession.
As with all professions, the sky is the limit, and some petroleum geologists will make more than $1 million per year. These kinds of salaries may be earned by geologists whose salaries involve “overrides,” which is a fancy word for owning a piece of the action, without having to risk their own personal funds in risky ventures.
Please don’t ever think of entering any field, especially this one, if money is your main objective! Petroleum geology is a high-paying career, but you will be very unhappy surrounded by geologists, who constantly live and talk geology (rarely mentioning football), if you don’t love what you are doing.
If you’re just starting to explore the road to geology, it’s really better not to think much about money, or even a job. Just concentrate on getting the degree you need. The type of geologist you want to be, and the job you will do, will become clear later.
There are many paths in geology, and petroleum geology may not be your cup of tea. If you want to specialize in late Ashgillian monzonitic plutonic intrusions, more power to you. I once did!