When most people outside the STEM industry hear the words "oil and gas," they probably picture dramatic scenes: an enormous drill churning away in the middle of a dusty desert, while rough-and-tumble workers in hard hats and coveralls shout and sweat in the sweltering heat or in the middle of the ocean. What many people don't realise is that there's a lot more to the oil and gas industry than just drilling and driving.
Behind the scenes, there's a whole team of scientists, engineers, and experts working hard to keep the energy flowing. And one of the most important players on that team is the geologist - a person who is essential in the exploration, as well as the development and production of oil and gas fields.
Petroleum geologists are like modern-day treasure hunters - but instead of searching for gold, they're on the hunt for oil. They spend their days analysing rock samples, scrutinising seismic data, and mapping out underground formations. Considered the architects of the oil industry, these geologists design drilling plans and make sure everything is in place before the big dig begins.
Once they find a potential spot, they work with engineers to design and drill wells to get the oil and gas out of the ground (exploration and production). Petroleum geologists play a crucial role in making sure resources are extracted safely and responsibly. In celebration of women’s month this March, we spoke to Anne Domzig - a bright-eyed geologist with more than 18 years of experience from France who is currently in Malaysia.
1. How did you end up as a geologist?
At school I always liked science but I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do later or even know the diversity of jobs out there. In fact, I started at university by studying medicine and then changed to biology studies, which also included a curriculum in geology. I started to take more interest in geology and continued in that direction until I completed my PhD on the tectonics and geological structure of offshore Algeria.
I then spent 2 years as a post-doc and teacher assistant at the university. After this, I luckily got a position in a consulting company specialising in structural geology in Scotland, working mostly for the oil and gas sector. Four years later I joined a large oil and gas company in London as a geologist, and since 2021 I have been with Petronas in Kuala Lumpur as a structural geologist.
Fascinating photo from Anne's field visits - Alternations of coarse and fine-grained sandstone within a paleo riverbed
2. Who were your mentors?
I have had many people mentoring me over the years, from my teachers and supervisors to senior colleagues in the industry. I personally try to learn from or be inspired by a variety of people, whether they are men or women, in my company or outside.
Lately, my mentors have been women in managerial positions in my organisations, and I think it is very important to have women role models in this male-dominated industry. Not only do they provide inspiration and break down stereotypes but it also helps to build self-confidence to see how other women successfully progressed in their careers.
3. What does your day typically look like?
There is no typical day in this industry. My current work involves conducting structural geology studies which feed into larger studies to identify potential oil and gas reservoirs. The type of work required can vary a lot, from data gathering and conditioning, analysis of geological data, including seismic data, well logs, and rock samples, interpretation and/or modelling, to quality control and assurance work.
I generally also spend a lot of time in meetings or preparing presentations. Collaboration with other departments and functions within the company and communication of results are essential parts of the job. My job also includes mentoring and teaching structural geology to more junior staff, and this can sometimes include going into the field to teach geological concepts and how to map geological formations based on observations of real rocks. Overall, projects are varied so it is intellectually very rewarding.
4. You’ve been around in the energy business for 18 years. What are some of your career highlights?
I’m really grateful I’ve had the opportunity to work on amazing areas with beautiful datasets, where the geology is complex and also fascinating. Offshore Malaysia is one of these places! As a result of studying so many different areas of the world, I have had the opportunity to work with very culturally diverse teams and travel a lot to visit clients or partners or for conferences.
5. Your career can definitely be demanding – what’s your work-life balance?
I have a desktop job and travelling is only occasional so I generally have regular working hours, but at times the workload can be very challenging. There are periods of the year that are busier than others and it can become very intense with long working hours to finish the work on time. It is important to set limits to not fall into burnout.
For example, if there is no ongoing urgent matter, I refuse to entertain meetings that run late after working hours or reply to emails outside office hours. I want to keep a good balance between my personal life and work, so I try to set achievable targets in my projects (in collaboration with the different stakeholders of course!) so that there is no need for systematic overtime work.
I have been prone to burnout in the past, which was the consequence of a lack of self-confidence, always trying to show I can do more, to get recognition, but this is often counter-productive and unfortunately very easy to fall back into this vicious cycle. We need to be the ones setting limits.
6. Having great policies such as flexible working hours can encourage more women to join the energy workforce. How do you think companies have gone about implementing these?
Covid has forced us to go online and it showed that these new ways of working or communicating can be equally effective, at least for desktop jobs. But since offices have reopened around the world, the amount of flexibility that remained is significantly different depending on the nature of the work, the company policies and the culture.
I can choose 8 days per month to work from home, and there is some flexibility also for my start and end hours, which is great, but I know there are large disparities between countries, companies, or sometimes even teams. For jobs that do not require a presence in a particular place, we would think that it should be easy to give complete flexibility, some companies do give it, but in some places, it still seems like a long way to go. However, I think overall it got a lot better than pre-covid and that it will encourage more women to consider joining the energy workforce if they know that so many jobs and companies within the industry can actually accommodate flexible working arrangements.
7. Instilling the youth to join the STEM industry is a big challenge today. For someone who went on this path, in what ways could we encourage the younger generation to join the geoscience industry?
We need better communication and more interactions with schools. I recently participated in a job forum at my daughter’s school. I was holding a booth for the geologist job, and I showed them how it’s more than “just to look at rocks or study the subsurface”.
The media also plays a big part in influencing the youth to join STEM. For example, scientists who present TV documentaries, or scientists in movies or sitcoms can be great for advertising the STEM sector or science in general.
We need to emphasise how geology (or other STEM subjects) plays a crucial role in solving real-world problems and making a positive impact on society, showcasing the exciting and innovative aspects of the job. The young generation also needs to be aware of the various job opportunities the sector can offer, that it can be pretty vast.
A photo from Anne's recent trip to the Johor coast.
8. How has climate change impacted the way you work?
I have definitely seen an increase in efforts towards reducing carbon emissions, and we are more and more involved in CO2 storage projects. But one of the first consequences I experienced in Europe was the cancellation of new exploration projects for oil and gas, soon followed by (and accelerated by the Covid crisis) heavy redundancy rounds, so it has been a bumpy road for me and many of my colleagues. I lost my job in the UK while I was working for another large oil and gas company and it took me some time to find another one.
Many countries and energy companies have vowed to meet zero-emission targets in the relatively near future, so they need new skill sets to adapt to greener projects but a lot of the old skills are transferable to these new projects. So the type of work slightly changes with the new requirements, but the methods of trying to understand the geology of the subsurface are still the same.
9. What is the outlook for the oil industry in the next 5 years – are we taking the initiatives to be greener?
The majority of the large oil and gas companies are now taking greener initiatives. Some of the initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move towards net-zero objectives include CO2 storage projects, but also investment in renewable energies such as wind and solar, or developing biofuels for instance. Some companies and countries have set fast-approaching deadlines, so things are definitely in motion.
For the next 5 years and beyond - probably for a few more decades -, our world will still be largely dependent on non-renewable energy sources, so it is not the end yet for extraction and use of fossil fuels, but hopefully, it can be done with more and more improvement in efficiency and emission reduction.
10. What advice would you give to people who are interested in venturing into oil and gas?
I would advise doing a master's or attending an engineering school specialising in petroleum geoscience, engineering or anything related to sustainable energy. Research career paths and possibilities of jobs related to specific studies and specialities. Talk to professionals in the industry and if possible try to get internships or work experience placements to get a better idea of jobs beforehand and also to get a foot in the door. It is essential to build a good network, and having a mentor can be a boost.
Oil and gas is an exciting sector to be in, with multiple possibilities for job paths. The sector is not going to disappear anytime soon; even if the job scopes are reoriented towards sustainable energy and CO2 reduction, there will always be a need for geoscientists and engineers in the energy sector for the foreseeable future.
We thank Anne Domzig for her time and keenness to share her love for geology with us!
For #freelancing missions related to oil and gas, browse through the Trees Engineering marketplace at www.trees-engineering.com.