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Why would oil companies hire physicists?

  1. Feb 18, 2012 #1
    Why would major oil companies like Shell, Schlumberger and Exxon Mobil hire physics graduates and physicists?

    So I'll be starting my physics degree course this fall and I've heard plenty of people saying that a physics degree would definitely open doors to careers at oil companies. I don't know if it's true because as far as I've heard, these companies usually hire more engineers then physicists.

    Also, how would a physicist contribute to an oil company if he or she is hired? Physics graduates typically don't have adequate engineering skills compared to their engineer counterparts so what would they do at oil companies?
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  3. Feb 18, 2012 #2
    Because physics is the master of all the sciences :biggrin:

    I'd imagine physicists would get jobs where they tell engineers what to do since physicists have the better understanding and the engineers have been trained to use the tools.

    I could be completely wrong though as I'm not, nor will I probably ever be, involved with the oil industry..
  4. Feb 18, 2012 #3


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    If that wasn't meant as a joke, it's complete nonsense, and if any job interviewer spots that attitude you will go strainght onto the "reject" pile.

    I expect oil companies hire for the same reason as most other companies. They want people who have some relevant background knowledge, and who can think straight. Some (but not all) physics graduates meet those two criteria.
  5. Feb 18, 2012 #4


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    Well, geophysics is one area that oil companies need physicists for. It is of particular importance in exploration.
  6. Feb 18, 2012 #5
    It's also for the obvious reason that not every person working in the oil industry is directly involved with, well, oil. However, If I were in HR at such a company, I would still prefer to have science-y or engineer-y people in those secondary roles. Ergo, physics. (As opposed to, say, Eng. Lit.)
  7. Feb 18, 2012 #6
    I know that Schlumberger, Halliburton, Baker Hughes, Weatherfor and other service companies hire field engineers with any type of technical degree -- physics, engineering, applied math, sometimes even chemistry. However, what they call field engineering isn't really engineering. It's more or less high level technician working: running instruments and interpreting instrumental data. They want field engineers a technical degree because it shows they are capable of understanding and interpreting quantitative data.
  8. Feb 20, 2012 #7
    Because oil exploration is extremely high-tech. Among the tools used for oil exploration are neutron scattering instruments, resistivity detectors using induction and direct measure, gamma ray detectors. And then there is sesmic data, and also resevoir simulations.

    They do, but there are more engineers than physicists to be hired. One other thing was that for a long time, no one went into oil/gas, so there really is a shortage of people in the area.

    True story. About five years ago, I was at a oil/gas conference in which one of the speakers mentioned that he expected oil wells to start blowing up around now. The problem is that most of the people in oil/gas got first got hired in the 1970's/1980's. They are all retiring, and the new people don't have the long experience that it takes to actually run an oil well. So he said to start expecting a string of major disasters. I was thinking about him with the BP oil well in the Gulf blew out.

    Lots of different jobs. I did database computer programming. Also, even the people are doing directly oil related things aren't interchangeable. You can't interchange a geologist with a petroleum engineer, for example.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2012
  9. Feb 21, 2012 #8
    Because its much easier to teach a physicist geology than a geologist physics.

    Geophysicists use very accurate measurements in variations in the gravitational field close to the surface of the earth to find pockets of oil and natural gas (because both of these have different densities than the rock the gravitational field will vary slightly in these places). Also using dynamite to send waves through the lithosphere of the earth to detect such pockets as well. Many times satellite gravity mapping of large areas is used to get a basic idea of where these pockets could be which is very physics intensive. A recent occupation of geophysicists is to use satellite mapping to map danger zones, such as Afghanistan, for rare earth metals because it its to dangerous to test for the metals on the ground.
  10. Feb 22, 2012 #9
    In fact that's not true. Geologists tend to have very detailed knowledge of rock strata, which is very difficult to get if you are a physicist. The basic issue is that if you are a physicist, you are used to working things out from first principles. If you are a geologist, you'll be familiar with the rock formations of the Permian basin, and this is something you just have to know, and which you can't "figure out."

    In fact, geologists are not interchangeable. A geologist that is an expert in West Texas is useless when looking for oil in the Gulf Coast, because it's just a different world.

    Geophysicist != geologist

    They are different jobs and they are not interchangeable.

    A geologist looks at the forest. A geophysicist looks at the tree. A petrophysicist looks at a leave on the tree.
  11. Feb 22, 2012 #10
    Back in the 70s and 80s, I had friends (engineering physics and radiation physics) picked up by Schlumberger to do well logging. They spent a lot of time travelling and made good money. We're in places that aren't always obvious, and oil is one.
  12. Feb 22, 2012 #11
    Geology is not nearly that limited. There are fundamental principles and other key facets of geology that would allow a "West Texas" expert to perform perfectly fine on the "Gulf Coast". I am an exploration geologist with an interest in the Archean and I'm currently working with a government organization dealing with oil and gas exploration in the Western Sedimentary Basin.

    Along with this, is that geology students (for the most part) are required to follow some fairly rigorous course work with respect to physics, calculus and chemistry. This is then applied to courses in geochemistry and geophysics. I would have to say that all geologists have fundamental training in physics and other fields. Many go on to acquire an even deeper knowledge of these fields as applied to geological principles.

    This is a little more accurate, although any geologist (whether a petrophysicicts or not) should consider the entire spectrum from leaves to forest. I see geology as a very holistic and applied field of science. You will find geologists bent over electron microprobes, gazing at spectral data from Mars, dipping a rock hammer into the lava on Kilauea, or coring centuries worth of ice from the ice sheet in Greenland.

    I would certainly suggest some geophysics courses as they will, at least, give you some of the basic approaches taken in the field.
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