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if you ever collected rocks or stopped to admire the rock strata shown in a highway cut, you have an interest in geology or earth science. The earth sciences are concerned with the planet's physical resources—its rocks, minerals, and soil. The technology associated with earth science is mining, or, in the case of oil and natural gas, drilling.

Earth scientists and technicians frequently travel to exotic locations in search of minerals and oil or to study earth forms. “Exotic” does not mean comfortable or pleasant. Minerals are usually found in rugged terrain, miles from cities, and explorers have to work in primitive conditions under extremes of temperature.

Earth science technicians can expect to wear boots and hardhats rather than suits and designer shoes. Their work is strenuous and demanding. Because of this, they often work on contract for short periods of time and receive excellent pay.

Petroleum technicians specialize in oil and gas. They investigate and measure the geologic conditions in working oil or gas wells. To do this, they lower instruments into wells and carefully record their findings. By analyzing the mud from wells, they can tell how much longer the well will continue to produce.

In exploring for new wells (prospecting), technicians collect geological samples and examine them to evaluate the petroleum and mineral content. Some petroleum technicians are scouts. They collect information about existing oil and gas well-drilling operations in the area and about the contracts that leaseholders have. They may suggest that an oil company purchase the lease and develop the site. Petroleum technicians also work on the site as the oil or gas is pumped to a refinery, or they may work in a refinery, where the oil is turned into a commercial product. Refineries have been described as hostile places, with huge, hot pipes and air thick with the smell of oil and gasoline. Working in such an environment requires physical strength and stamina.

Metallurgy technicians, also called materials science technicians, work with mining engineers and frequently travel the globe to find mineral samples for analysis. Usually they are looking for precious metals and valuable elements, such as uranium or gold. They, too, may work on contract for a year at a far-distant place, then come home for a period of time before heading out to the field again. Having the ability to speak several languages is an asset.

Some earth science technicians turn to environmental protection and work on mining reclamation projects, or work at recovering metals from waste streams. Other earth science technicians work with metallurgy engineers. They work in labs or production facilities that make metal products, such as wire, cables, I-beams, or sheets of aluminum. In materials testing labs, the technicians work with metals—primarily iron, steel, aluminum, or copper—to test combinations (alloys) for strength and durability.

Education and Training

Earth science technicians are frequently trained on the job, but they should bring a background in geography or geology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics with them. It can be helpful to take a few courses in these subjects at a community college or university. Technical schools in oil-rich regions teach the basics of petroleum technology.


Earth science technology is a growing field, but it is dependent on the state of the global economy and international politics. Opportunities for those who want to explore the earth are best for those willing to contract with a multinational company, but they have to be prepared for the risks involved, not only from political hotspots in places like the Mideast, but also from unfriendly bacteria and harsh climates.

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