Geophysicist helps map where to drill for oil, gas deposits
Energy companies rely on geophysicists to pinpoint oil and natural gas formations to be drilled.
BY JAY F. MARKS Oklahoman
Published: December 26, 2010
Ryan Miller is a geophysicist at Devon Energy Corp. His work helps the company determine where to drill wells in search for oil and gas deposits. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
→Education: Master's degree in geophysics after earning a degree in related field such as math or geology.
→Salary: Geophysicists earned an average of $108,118 in March 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
→Desirable characteristics: Computer skills, good interpersonal skills, imagination.
Miller is a geophysicist at Devon Energy Corp. His job is to interpret scientific data from seismic tests that can send sound waves as deep as 30,000 feet below ground and identify oil and gas deposits.
"We can't drill on imagination or hopes and dreams," he said.
Todd Tipton, executive vice president of exploration at SandRidge Energy Inc., said geophysicists will be in demand in the energy industry for a long time.
"As long as we need to find oil and gas, you're going to need geophysicists," he said.
Tipton, a geophysicist himself, said geophysicists are another tool in the industry's arsenal, helping companies develop and explore fossil fuel formations.
"I find it exciting," he said.
Miller said he tells people his job is like putting together a puzzle.
He tries to put together all of the available details about an area to learn about as much as possible the subsurface.
"I think of it like a Sudoku puzzle," Miller said. "You have some data, but you have to gather all of the information you can to complete that puzzle."
Geophysicists like Miller use seismic data to create a three-dimensional map of a large area.
Such a job usually requires a master's degree in geophysics, after earning an undergraduate degree in a related field like geology or mathematics.
Tipton said geophysicists often are perceived almost like artists, since their discipline sometimes requires more art than science. They must be able to visualize underground rock formations in three dimensions to make the maps their jobs require.
He said those skills also can be used in other fields, like research or predicting earthquakes.
Miller said he always has been interested in biology and geology, but he was steered to geophysics in college because of proficiency in math.
He said he liked the potential uses of a geophysics degree.
At Devon, there are about 55 geophysicists on staff working to make the company's drilling operations as efficient as possible.
Miller said he is responsible for scrutinizing about a quarter of Wyoming.
It often takes about two years to compile and interpret seismic data in an undeveloped area. He said drilled wells provide additional data for geophysicists, who map the volume of "wiggles" resulting from a seismic survey.
Miller said those colored areas help identify which formations hold fossil fuels, so he can map subterranean formations to determine which ones will be most conducive to oil and gas production.
Miller said he enjoys the hunt.
Once the requisite data has been compiled, Miller works with geologists, drilling engineers and others to figure out how to make the most of Devon's operations budget.
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