Geology is an earth science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change.
KN: Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
My name is Kathleen Neset and I am a geologist. I grew up in New Jersey and I now work in the oilfields in North Dakota. I help oil companies find oil and natural gas in wellbores that they drill. North Dakota produces over one million barrels of crude oil every day. North Dakota is the number two oil-producing state in the nation and helps to fuel our great country and to provide a safe form of energy for our daily lives.
KN: Please tell our readers a little bit about what a petroleum geologist does.
As a petroleum geologist, I work at a drilling rig, and I look at drill cuttings, which are samples of the rock that is being ground up by the drill bit. These samples are then circulated to the surface and I catch a sample of these cuttings. I then wash and sieve them, and then I examine them under a microscope. I look for porosity— or holes in the rock — and I look for oil shows, which indicate a rock unit that may have oil and natural gas trapped in the rock. A lot of my work is done looking at rocks under a microscope. I use a computer in a lot of my work.
KN: Why is this work important/how does it apply to everyday life for most people?
The work of a petroleum geologist is so very important to many aspects of our daily lives, as well as to the security of our country. A petroleum geologist helps an oil company find oil and natural gas. This oil is refined — or separated into various components — such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products. Petroleum is used in so many different parts of our daily lives. Some things that we don’t think about when we talk about petroleum and crude oil are the many uses of petroleum products. We all know that crude oil is used to make gasoline to run our cars and trucks, and lubricants for our engines, but did you know that crude oil is also used to make synthetic fabrics and textiles? Many of the fabrics that make our very cool clothing are made from petroleum-based products.
KN: What is the coolest thing about your job?
The coolest thing about my job is that I get to do a job where I get to work outside at a drilling rig — and I get to work inside a mobile lab looking into a microscope at rocks. While studying these rocks, I sometimes see fossils in the rock — very small, microscopic remains of plants or animals that were alive on this earth hundreds of millions of years ago. I can learn to identify these fossils, and by studying paleontology, I know how long ago the fossils were alive.
KN: What is a typical day like for you?
The typical day for a petroleum geologist who works at a drilling rig involves going outside with a hard hat, fire resistant coveralls, safety glasses and steel-toed boots on and climbing up on a drilling rig and catching samples of the rock as it is circulated out of the wellbore. We also evaluate the gas that is circulated out of the well. These things help the geologist to identify the rock unit they are drilling in and help determine if the well is drilling in an oil-bearing zone. In most of the drilling today, the wellbores drill horizontally in the target formation, and I help the oil company keep the drill bit drilling in the correct (target) rock layer. In North Dakota, that rock layer is called the Bakken formation.
KN: What kind of training does it take to do your job?
First, a petroleum geologist must study a lot of mathematics and science. They must go to college for a minimum of four years to get a bachelor’s degree in geology. Then, they must learn specialized techniques to evaluate rocks under a microscope and identify oil and gas in formations. This type of special training is very interesting. Some petroleum geologists work very hard to study how to map the underground formations and determine where oil and gas may be located before the oil company even decides to drill the well.
KN: When/how did you know you wanted to work in the energy industry?
I started my college work studying mathematics. However, when I took my first class in geology, I enjoyed the work and being outside so much that I decided to concentrate my studying in geology. As I learned more about geology, I decide to interview for a job in seismology and I got the job and began the work right after I graduated from college. This was work that was in the oil fields of Michigan. From there, I continued my work in geology and looking for petroleum. I moved to Texas and Wyoming before coming to North Dakota and working in the oil fields here. This work was all energy-related work and I just enjoyed it very much.
KN: What is something cool most people don’t know about fossil fuels?
Did you know that petroleum is used in making cosmetics — such as our mom’s lipstick? It is made from petroleum! How about pain medicines? They are made from a base of petroleum products called benzenes. And, how about petroleum products used to make our bicycles? The tires, seats, hand grips and all the comfort parts of a bike are made from petroleum-based products. A bicycle with no petroleum-based parts is all metal — and very uncomfortable to ride!
KN: What do you like to do when you are not working?
I like to do things outside. So — when I am not working I like to ski — both water ski and snow ski. I like to go snowmobiling, and I like to walk and swim. I also like to read and learn about new things and also read books for good stories.
KN: You have such an interesting job! Thanks for telling us about it!