Worried about your future?
As a geologist in a constantly shifting energy industry
-- does anyone really know what's going to happen tomorrow? -- you
and most of your peers could be excused for traces of doubt.
But at least there's this: According to an increasing
number of industry workers -- including thousands of AAPG members
-- there is life after layoff.
Take the case of Lisa Norby, a former petroleum geologist
at Mobil Oil who survived six downsizings before finally taking
a buyout when the company closed its Denver office in 1992.
Although she retrained and entered a related profession,
today she is back at work in the oil and gas industry.
But not, however, in the usual way.
This time she's working for the government. Norby
is a petroleum geologist with the U.S. National Park Service.
In fact, she's "the only petroleum geologist in the
entire Park Service," she said -- and for her, even as the career
transitions continue, the skills she developed with Mobil are paying
off in new and surprising ways.
"I felt it was time for a change," she said of her
decision to leave the industry. "It got to a point where I wanted
to do something that had personal meaning for me."
For Norby, that meant a "shift back" to an original
interest she had in the environmental business -- and seeking a
job with the National Park Service.
"I was very fortunate because they (Mobil) had a
retraining program," she said. Under the Trade Adjustment Act, federal
funds were provided for retraining for individuals who wanted to
"I had always wanted to be an environmental geologist,"
she said, and headed back to school to earn a degree in environmental
"I realized if I wanted to stay in Denver, I'd have
to make a decision on my career," Norby said. "It's a tough city
to be an oil geologist in. Maybe this was my opportunity to do environmental
A native of Ohio, Norby earned her geology degree
from Ohio University and a master's degree in geology at Idaho State
University. After graduate school, she went to work for Mobil in
"They hired me as a geophysicist and I went through
their training program," she said.
For four years she worked in Mobil's Dallas office.
Then she moved to the company's Denver office in 1984, working in
both exploration and production.
"I worked the Williston basin and Piceance Basin
in western Colorado," she said.
After leaving Mobil in 1992, Norby first took some
time off and did some volunteer work. She worked as a trail volunteer
at Indian Peaks Wilderness Area near Denver and also volunteered
at the Center for Resource Management, a non-profit environmental
think tank founded by actor Robert Redford.
"They offered me a full-time position," she said,
writing environmental newsletters among other tasks for the organization.
But she was marking time. Earlier, she had applied
for a job with the Park Service, and the agency offered her a summer
job in 1993 while she was taking courses at the University of Denver
to get a certificate in environmental policy in management.
In that summer job, she handled environmental law
analyses. "I designed a compliance database for tracking projects.
Compliance is required on trail projects or building a visitors
center," she said.
Eventually, the Park Service offered to hire her
as a student trainee if she would work toward a master's degree
in environmental policy and management. Norby agreed, continued
her studies and completed that degree in 1996 with an emphasis on
"When I completed that program, they converted me
to a full-time permanent employee," she said.
She began working for the Park Service doing resource
planning and writing environmental impact statements. "It wasn't
just geology," she said. "It was all natural resource topics."
In that position, Norby handled proposals for special
- Installing waterlines to remove dams at Olympic National Park
to restore the salmon fishery.
- A bison management study at Yellowstone National Park focusing
on how to control the bison.
- A project involving the disturbed lands restoration program
at Redwood National Park, which had been damaged by the logging
"I was a generalist," she said. "Once in awhile,
I got a connection to petroleum."
Returning to Her Roots
But even working outside the petroleum industry,
Norby could not avoid downsizing. In 1999, the National Park's Denver
Service Center announced plans to reduce its employee population.
With hardly any seniority, Norby began to look for
another job. Fortunately for her, a petroleum geologist position
opened in the Park Service and she was hired for the job.
"I didn't think I'd ever be in the oil and gas market
after I left Mobil," she said.
Today, as the Park Service's only petroleum geologist,
she's working for the Park Services' Geologic Resource Division,
on a team composed of a lawyer and a petroleum engineer that evaluates
any proposed oil and gas operation in a national park.
"It's like a mini-consulting firm," she said.
In fact, private entities own subsurface mineral
rights and can explore for oil and gas in parks. Her team works
with oil and gas operators to help them design their project and
minimize the impact on the park.
"We oversee 700 wells," she said.
The biggest concentration of wells is in the Big
Southfork River and Recreation Area in Tennessee and Kentucky, where
315 wells are located. There also are many wells in three national
parks in Texas and a few in Ohio, New Mexico and Florida, she said.
Drilling in a national park can be complicated and
expensive because of protective measures required such as containerized
mud systems, lining protection, and measures to prevent any leakage
of fluids, she said.
To meet the requirements to drill in national parks,
energy companies must prepare a plan of operations, including considerations
for endangered species, she said.
Currently, she is working on a programmatic document
to guide operators on how to deal with sensitive resources in the
"The big thing we have to deal with is getting operators
in compliance," she said. "There are some operations that predated
the establishment of the park. If they change an operator, they
must comply with our regulations."
Set Your Sights ...
In 1999 Norby helped set up a production operations
seminar for all park staff. She also hopes to set up training for
park staff this year on how to use specialized equipment to test
for contamination hydrocarbons and brine at oil and gas well sites.
"We can do reconnaissance testing," she said.
Norby has encountered a big learning curve as she
refocused on the oil and gas business.
In the seven years she was out of the oil and gas
industry, there were a lot of improvements. "I never even heard
of containerized mud before. And it was 2-D seismic when I left
Mobil, not 3-D. The technology has taken off," she said.
To catch up on the changes in the industry, she continues
to attend more industry meetings and other educational programs.
"I always loved geology and getting back into this gave me a great
opportunity," she said.
She advises petroleum geologists who want to make
a transition in their careers to take some time to consider their
"Sit back and figure out what you want to do and
go for it," she said. "I never thought I could get into the type
of business that I wanted. But you have to plan for it. There are
a lot of opportunities if you're creative. I sat back and said,
'how can I get to where I want to go?'"
She noted that many retraining seminars are very
affordable. Volunteer work also can lead to jobs since they allow
"At the University of Denver, I had a professor who
had worked for the Park Service," she said. "I set my sights on
that and got a job there."