The information on this page was obtained during an interview on June 17, 2013.
Groundwater & Environmental Services (GES) is an environmental consulting firm working in the shale gas sector as well as in industrial and petroleum retail site cleanups both in Pennsylvania and nationwide. For shale gas plays, GES does baseline water quality testing, erosion and sedimentation control inspections, NORM testing, emergency response support, and special projects.. For industrial petroleum retail cleanup, GES helps companies investigate their historic waste management programs, characterizes soil and groundwater contamination and develop plans for remediation.
New hires with Associate's or Bachelor's degrees go to work conducting field activities necessary to for gas operators to be in compliance with their permits to develop the resource. Those with Master's degrees or more experience take on higher levels of data analysis and manage the activities of others performing the aforementioned tasks. The data analysis tasks might include managing large data sets, mapping data in geographic information systems (GIS), geochemical analysis, performing statistical analysis developing site conceptual models, mathematical modeling, and writing reports. There are some, but not many, opportunities for candidates with PhDs at environmental consulting firms.
Desirable Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
Geoscience knowledge and skills
Solid preparation in core geology courses is highly valued. However, other applicable environmental and water quality course work is useful.
Other skills and abilities
Successful candidates for this kind of work will need:
- computer skills including spreadsheets and database management as well as familiarity with GIS software
- good writing and communication skills
- a willingness to travel and possibly work long hours or weekends
- the flexibility to accommodate different clients wanting different approaches and different presentations of material
- good character and a strong work ethic
- the ability to manage proprietary information in an age of social media and widespread information sharing
- a strong desire to adhere to corporate and client health and safety protocols
Employers in this sector expect to have to cover safety training with new employees. Specifically, OSHA 1910.120, 40-hour Hazardous Waste Site Worker Training is an important piece that applicants will have to have before they can do much in this industry. Some academic departments include this training as a part of a course or as a stand-alone elective in their curriculum. If an applicant already has this training, it makes them more appealing as a candidate because the employer doesn't have to get them through it before they can start working.
People entering the environmental consulting world looking for a long-time career should be sure to get on track to earn their Professional Engineer or Professional Geologist certification. PEs/PGs open lots of doors but there are specific course work and experience requirements that you have to fulfill so you should be aware of these requirements.
What do you see as future trends in your workforce?
The shale gas sector is very promising and there are lots of different careers. Many of these pathways are not purely geoscience but a geoscience background will be a valuable asset along most of them. Graduates should get that core geology preparation and remain flexible to take advantage of opportunities as they become available.
Historically the industrial side of environmental consulting is where there has been more pure geoscience opportunities but these opportunities are less common these days and many sites have already been cleaned up. There will continue to be work in remediating Super Fund sites and brown fields. There will also be work reinvestigating sites that have already been characterized based on lower regulatory levels and lower detection limits for some contaminants and as new contaminants are identified, such as pharmaceutical compounds.
Environmental consulting is dependent on environmental regulation. New regulations drive the need for compliance on the part of industry which then drives the need for environmental consultants. In addition, when the economy is doing well overall, there is more need for environmental consultants to help active industries stay in compliance. So, given that regulation is likely to increase, the economy continues its slow improvement, and shale gas will remain very active the outlook is generally positive for this sector.
What can higher education do to prepare students for these future trends?
Keep the core geology courses strong and available. Many schools dilute the geology major into a broader geoscience major, combining or losing one or more of the core courses in the process - structural geology, sedimentary geology, historical geology, petrology, mineralogy, etc. Often this provides more flexibility for students to pursue special interests but the preparation is not as robust and employers know that.