AAPG members throughout the world are proving that geologists can be highly beneficial to the oil and gas companies that employ them in areas beyond exploration alone.
Two of them are Karyna Rodriguez, vice president of global new ventures at Searcher in London, and Eduardo Vallejo, program lead of technologies and subsurface knowledge at YPF Tecnología (Y-TEC) in Buenos Aires.
In interviews with the EXPLORER, both shared stories about their careers and provided advice to the next generation of professionals.
Finding Her Place
Rodriguez developed an interest in the physical world at an early age.
Geology was not offered at her grade school in Mexico and England, but she studied geography and developed a great interest in the physical world. When deciding what to study at university, she used a careers handbook to search for her favorite subject.
“For geography it listed teaching as the most likely job prospect and as I came from a family of teachers, I wanted to do something different,” she said.
“When I turned over the page I came across geology. I was sold from beginning to end of the description. Studying the history of the Earth, outdoor fieldtrips, the opportunity to travel and, last but not least, the prospect of working in the oil industry – all resonated very strongly with me,” she said.
Rodriguez decided to pursue a career in the oil and gas business, and she prepared by obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology at Oxford University and a master’s in stratigraphy from University College London.
She worked for companies in Europe and Mexico before assuming her current role at Searcher.
Her current primary responsibilities involve identifying, pursuing and realizing new multiclient projects that optimize exploration for oil and gas in mature and frontier basins around the globe.
Rodriguez says she enjoys having the opportunity to generate projects that can help make hydrocarbon exploration and development more efficient.
“There is enormous satisfaction when a project comes to fruition and starts to deliver as expected,” she said.
“I also like the relationship-building aspect, which is one of the key aspects to a successful project. This involves establishing and maintaining a good working relationship with governments, oil company clients, partners and of course, the Searcher team,” she added.
The Geology Rebel
Like Rodriguez, Eduardo Vallejo discovered geology through his love of nature and desire to distinguish himself from family members.
Growing up in a family of lawyers in Tucumán, Argentina, Vallejo found an early interest in volcanoes and other natural phenomena.
When choosing higher studies, his father pressured him to go into law, but Vallejo resisted.
“My ‘rebellious’ response was to study physics, but before I finished the first year, I thought it was too abstract for me. I had some friends studying natural science, so I decided to study geology instead, and that’s when I found my calling,” he said.
Vallejo received his degree in geology from the National University of Tucumán. While a student, he started working in research with a scholarship from Argentina’s National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET).
Shortly after graduation, he learned of the opportunity to pursue a graduate program that culminated with a job at YPF, Argentina’s national oil company.
“The opportunity to work in YPF, a pioneer in oil and gas, in an environment where technology holds a central role, along with having the chance to be independent and get to know other parts of the country – all this led me to the hydrocarbon sector,” he said.
Once joining the industry, Vallejo never looked back. He said he has many reasons he likes working in the industry.
“I enjoy the complexity, the multidisciplinary approach, the challenges of oil and gas and energy in general, the opportunity to work as a team, applying cutting-edge technologies, the opportunities to experience different work environments, learn about other cultures and other geological environments,” he said.
Not All About the Technical Side
Rodriguez echoed Vallejo’s sentiments and noted that she appreciates how working in the industry allows her to learn and contribute in many ways.
“What I have enjoyed most about working in the business is that my job has always had a strong technical aspect requiring creativity and innovation and with continuous opportunities to learn from the different disciplines involved in the exploration cycle,” she said. “But it’s not all about the technical side, and I have also enjoyed the challenge of reconciling geology with the financial and political aspects of the business.”
Rodriguez noted how her role in new ventures allows her to inform the company’s financial decisions.
“There are no decisions made at Searcher which do not consider the geological aspect of a project,” she said. “There is no point in acquiring a large amount of data to fill in gaps if the geological indications are negative, as this could end up with the company having invested a large amount of capital in a project which will not sell and will not contribute positively towards oil and gas exploration.”
She also noted that geological insights developed while working on different projects at Searcher can lead to the identification of areas with potential prospectivity that were previously overlooked, giving the company the opportunity to generate unique and valuable projects.
How Geologists Contribute
Vallejo said his experience and that of colleagues has shown that geologists can add value to the energy business in a variety of areas.
“Though the traditional roles are exploration and development, there are many others, from technical positions like technology development, laboratory analysis and technical consulting to management positions in areas not directly related to the geology, including reserves auditing, strategy, sales, project evaluation and management,” he said.
Vallejo noted how geologists’ training helps them to develop abilities that enable them to perform well in different types of positions.
“One of those abilities is curiosity, which helps us understand what we cannot see directly and to deconstruct, crumble, analyze elements to understand and assemble models. Another is our analytic methodology, which helps us to understand and connect elements in stages to reduce risk and reach successful results. Also, something that characterizes us is that we are used to taking and managing risks, and this is very important in many activities,” he said.
Vallejo uses all three of these abilities in his current position at Y-TEC, where he helps to define and consolidate the company’s strategy for R&D project development and specialized technological services for the industry. Vallejo leads technical relations with clients and works in other areas, including technology surveillance, intellectual property protection and technology transfer and licensing processes.
Vallejo said he enjoys a position that includes both a technical and a business focus.
“I like being able to work both with Y-TEC and with businesses to align the portfolio of subsurface R&D projects to the needs and challenges of the E&P areas to develop and transfer valuable technological solutions on a commercial scale,” he said. “I enjoy working to ensure that both the portfolio and the projects always have a comprehensive look and approach.”
Vallejo noted that geologists who are interested in technology have many opportunities at companies during the energy transition.
“In new energies and (enhanced oil recovery), we need geologists to characterize and model reservoirs for projects related to fluid injection (H2, CO2), and they also are important for carbon capture, use and storage projects,” he said.
He noted that working in technology provides a myriad of opportunities to support both traditional oil and gas projects as well as alternative energy exploration and development.
“Geoscientists have opportunities as technicians, not only developing solutions with direct application in processes or operations directly related to our discipline, but also participating in the development of equipment, tools, chemicals, materials and software,” he said.
Rodriguez agreed, and noted that the emerging field of artificial intelligence is another area where geoscientists can also make a financial impact.
“Any progress made towards reducing the exploration cycle time will reduce costs” she said. “AI is already changing the way we access seismic data, making seismic investment dollars go further, and enhancing the efficiency of gaining insight into any hydrocarbon basin.”
Rodriguez sees the AI at work when using Searcher’s “sAIsmic” web-based platform, which provides on-the-spot seismic data access from large datasets stored in the cloud. Geologists at the company develop machine learning algorithms that to identify key geological features in the large amounts of data.
“We can use AI to automate some of the repetitive tasks and leave more time for geoscientists to analyze the results, which is where the real value is generated,” she said.
Advice to Young Geoscientists
For Vallejo and Rodriguez, young geologists who are interested in the business side of oil and gas have many career options.
“There are no limits,” Vallejo said, adding that young people should look for opportunities and be ready to seize them when the time comes.
“I always suggest that young geologists complement their training with other knowledge, so that they can interact and understand other disciplines,” he said. “That perhaps is a preliminary step, working as a geologist and understanding the business brings experience to later play other roles.”
Rodriguez noted that oil and gas will continue to be the main source of energy for decades to come, and that the financial side of the business is an important part of it.
“I think that one of the main rewards in the future will be to watch countries in southeast Asia and Africa come out of poverty as they get more access to energy,” she said.
“From my point of view, the business side of oil and gas is complicated, challenging, fascinating and very rewarding. I would say to any geoscientist who would like the challenge to unravel geopolitics, learn about and integrate financial aspects while at the same time continuing to apply geological science, this is the job for them,” she added.
Hope for the Future
Rodriguez recognizes that, while it isn’t always easy to work in the oil and gas industry, she is convinced that she made the right career choice.
“I joined the industry when oil was $10 a barrel. I had just left university, sent over 200 CVs and did not get a single reply. I got my first technical assistant temporary job through a temping agency. As soon as I started the job, I immediately confirmed that this was where I wanted to build my career,” she said.
“The ride has been bumpy with many ups and downs but the rewards have always outweighed the difficult times. Geology has been the fuel that has kept me going and I am so grateful that I turned the page on that careers handbook, as that marked the beginning of the best journey of my life.”