The job of a seismic interpreter is actually pretty true to its name: they make interpretations and calculations through listening to rocks. Okay, that’s a very simple way of putting it and rocks don’t actually speak (and we reckon they’d speak very slowly if they did), so let’s delve (or drill) a bit deeper into what a seismic interpreter actually does.
Seismic interpreters survey particular areas, sending down pulses of sound energy through the ground, which are then interpreted to establish a picture of rock structures and underground formations.
It’s a bit like that (rubbish) film Daredevil with Ben Affleck: seismic interpreters use sound energy to build up 2D, 3D and 4D models to establish the depth, shape and structure of what is beneath their feet. But unlike in Daredevil, they aren’t using sound energy to fight baddies – instead it’s to work out how much hydrocarbons and minerals are in a certain area, how far down it is, and how easy it is to get to.
With their acoustic measurements, satellite images and information from surveys, seismic interpreters can inform the whole process of extracting hydrocarbons and minerals from the Earth’s crust. This could involve anything from deciding on the volume that can be extracted to dealing with the structural difficulties of actually getting the stuff out. Their top geological skills can even be used to help locate other potential extraction sites.
Of course, if the seismic interpreter isn’t employed by an energy company or mineral extraction company, then their job roles might be a bit different. Those working for research organisations might use their techniques and geological expertise to analyse seismic data for environmental assessment and research purposes.
Salary & benefits
Salaries can be lucrative, especially for those working for oil and energy companies.
Starting salaries are usually between £21,000 and £32,000, but can increase dramatically after training.
Seismic interpreters with a few years’ experience might expect to earn in the region of £50,000 to £70,000 or more.
Unlike other careers in the oil and energy industry, a seismic interpreter works pretty regular hours during the week. They might put in extra hours in order to meet a deadline or work longer at crucial points in the project, but they’ll rarely work evenings or shifts.
One thing that is different about life as a seismic interpreter is that they might be expected to move a fair bit around the world to work at new production and exploration sites.
However, not all seismic interpreters work in remote or far flung locations. In fact, in the UK, most are based around London or Aberdeen.
This is a graduate-level job, so having a good honours degree is essential. This should be in a scientific subject, such as geology, geophysics, physics, applied physics or mathematics. Most seismic interpreters will have a relevant master’s degree in an area such as geoscience.
Companies might not recruit people specifically into seismic interpreter roles, but might take on graduates with particular skills or academic backgrounds and see whether they perform best as seismic interpreters, field seismologists or petroleum engineers.
Competition can be fierce for positions, and the recruitment process is tough, so relevant work experience or vacation work will help.
Wannabe seismic interpreters will need great communication skills, as they’ll be interacting and reporting to clients, very strong numerical and analytical skills, and a good level of geological knowledge.
In particular, they’ll need strong I.T. skills, as seismic interpreters will spend most of their time using computer programmes.
Training & progression
Training can be intensive, as seismic interpreters need to have in-depth knowledge of a whole range of computer software and new computer systems. Training will also be used to build up managerial and business skills. Employers might use in-house training, training centres, external courses or mentors.
In terms of career progression, seismic interpreters might move into managerial seismic interpreter roles, switch industries, or move into business or systems management positions.
Ultimately, there’s no clear cut career path and it’ll vary from company to company and person to person.