Geophysics is a great profession. Much of the technology we Geoscientists take for granted has its roots firmly embedded in solutions to earth science’s problems developed by geophysicists. This is certainly true in the Alberta oil and gas industry.
We peer deep into and beneath the Earth’s oceans from space, from aircraft and ships using magnetometers, gravimeters and seismic exploration techniques. Geophysics extends our senses into n-dimensional hyperspace to visualize what we seek. The technologies that made cell phones possible were invented by geophysicists as were the technologies needed to solve tide predictions and cleaning up seismic records. Much of what we know about the interior of the Earth is beyond the normal reach of our senses and drilling technology has been the direct result of whole-Earth geophysics techniques. This knowledge endows the practitioner with enormous power.
With power comes a whole range of moral, ethical and social responsibilities; issues that are not always obvious to people outside the profession. The rapid development and expansion of electronic communications technology occurred largely without any kind of moral and ethical constraint, giving rise to the unscrupulous “hacker” (a much misunderstood term in its own right). The telecom revolution also gave rise to two generations of designers who often considered themselves outside the law and who believed they did not require or need licensing to practice electrical and computer software engineering. Many had no formal training. They learned everything on the job, on the fly and the notion of professionalism never entered their consciousness. The outcome was the celebrated tech bubble of the mid to late 1990’s and the continuing assault on our internet-connected computers. There isn’t an equivalent example fro m geophysics, although there are practitioners who have objections to professional licensure.
Anyone who has learned how to apply corrections to geophysical field data is aware of the potential for using that knowledge unethically. In fact, there is a persistent joke is the one that goes something like this:
Client: So what does the geophysics look like?
Geo: What do you want it to look like?
This is really what licensure in Alberta is all about. The Professional Geophysicist is a key player on the exploration team. Engineers are always pushing for ? metre resolution on the reef crest elevation and get really upset when the AVO interpretation said ”gas” and the DST sample said “salt water”.
There is a limit to knowing what is under the prospect on the drilling decision board room table and it is up to the P.Geoph. to state – in no uncertain terms – what the limits are and what the uncertainty is. Equally true is that the P.Geoph. must take the P.Geol. to task when it comes to understanding what the odds of a lithology change are between the last two holes on the cross section. The two geoscientists must then convince their engineering colleague(s) their composite interpretation is the best available information and their consensus on whether or not there will be pay at the expected horizons. This information sharing and opinion development is what personalized professionalism is all about.
Opinions are developed from an amalgam of education (which should be life-long and continuous) and experience. They require total honesty with respect to the risk of being wrong and free from any conflict of interest that could bias a decision. When doing a farm-in, your company hat stops at the door and you only bring in your professionalism. Equally important is the need to stand your ground when colleagues are putting heat on you to push the data harder than you feel comfortable with. Sometimes it does make sense to shoot another couple of lines before committing to a hole that could put your company or public safety at risk. Appearing to be reluctant to decide sometimes requires as much professional bravery as arguing for a more aggressive approach in the face of stiff opposition. Professional competence is the stuff about deciding between what is technically daring and courageous, and what is contrary to good professional judgment. This is one reason why a licensed Professional Geophysicist is expected to sign and seal the resource evaluation report that goes to the stock exchange.
The drilling decision may also involve what is environmentally and socially acceptable. The best place to drill based on economic and geoscience criteria may be the worst place from a public interest point of view. Compliance costs are high and getting higher all the time. Ignoring the public interest guarantees further escalation in compliance costs and will make the next decision all the more difficult.
Historically, many non-geoscientists confused the real , physics-based science that geophysicists use to find mineral resources with Black Magic. From the 1860's through 1950's, there were hucksters who claimed to be able to witch for water, oil and just about anything else that there was a market for and their antics were often confused with the practice of geoscience. These historical attitudes make the need for a highly professional approach to the acquisition, processing and interpretation of geophysical field data extremely important. It is equally important that the general and investing public is made aware of the high level of professionalism practitioners employ.
The Geophysics Team doesn’t end with the Professional Geophysicist. Those persons engaged in field operations that do not involve interpretation of the final sections and those persons who independently prescribe and perform field data correction, processing and plotting may be eligible for the Registered Professional Technologist (Geophysical) designation. This entitles the bearer to carry out a narrow scope of practice short of final interpretation independently and without direct supervision. R.P. T. (Geophysical) licensees are subject to the same Professional Practice Examination and Code of Ethics as Professional Geophysicist title holders, but have different education and experience requirements. To qualify, a person must have at least the equivalent of two years of full-time technology training or university-level coursework appropriate to the chosen scope of practice and six years of experience under the supervision of a Professional Geophysicist or a R e g i s t e red Professional Technologist (Geophysical).
Why does Alberta require those who practice geophysics to be licensed? The primary reason is to protect the public interest; first and foremost of which is to protect public safety and well-being. The Act also defines the scope of practice for professional geoscience and specifically what can be expected from someone claiming to be a Geophysicist. Licensure provides the public with assurance that a panel of a person’s peers acknowledges that the licensee has sufficient knowledge and experience to perform geophysics within the scope of practice chosen by the licensee. The Professional Geophysicist is also committed by oath to perform all technical and professional duties with honesty and integrity. The system for licensing and enforcing the Engineering, Geological and Geophysical Professions Act is spelled out in the Act itself, its Regulations and in the Association’s Bylaws. These documents can be found at www.apegga.org.
Having been recognized by the Board of Examiners as meeting licensure requirements by granting a license to practice, the licensee is free to independently practice geophysics, use the title of Professional Geophysicist, to advertise geophysical services within the licensee’s scope of practice and to act as a Responsible Member for a body corporate, should the licensee choose to operate that way or on behalf of an incorporated company that practices geophysics. Anyone who does any of these things without a license is in breach of the Act and subject to prosecution. The Province takes these matters very seriously and compliance with the law is not optional.
Some persons in the geophysical industry complain they presented their credentials to the Association ten to twenty years ago and were assigned a set of technical exams in addition to the Professional Practice Exam. This assignment offended those persons, some of whom had many years of service to the industry and were well respected in the scientific community. Their response was to ignore licensure and they continued to conduct themselves as they always had done and they felt justified in doing so. No one came after them for a long time until the day a compliance officer came to visit.
More recently, a thorough review of the Association’s due diligence practices led to a streamlined licensing process that gives the Board of Examiners more latitude to accept past experience as an offset to university degrees that did not include the full program of courses required by APEGGA for registration. Consequently, many persons who were outside the system found that those deficiencies could be waived and only the Professional Practice Exam was required for licensure after the application fees were paid. If you, the reader, happen to be in that situation, try applying. You may be surprised at how quickly and efficiently you can be granted a license to practice.
More changes are coming. One problem in the past was that there wasn’t much detail available on what criteria were used for assessing the education and experience owned by an applicant for a Professional Geophysicist designation. The Canadian Council of Professional Geoscientists passed a motion to recommend a set of criteria for licensure proposed by the Canadian Geoscience Standards Board at its Annual General Meeting in Winnipeg last June. The document can be found on the Council website www.ccpg.ca. This document is particularly important for undergraduate students planning to become professional practitioners as a guide to which courses to take. The document can also serve as a guide when assessing job opportunities after graduation.
All these changes mean that there really are no more reasons for not applying for a license to practice on the part of those people who want recognition as Professional Geophysicists or Registered Professional Technologists (Geophysical). The career path is clear, the criteria for licensing is clear and the reasons for doing so are equally clear. If you are not sure where you are with respect to licensure or obtaining a Permit to Practice for your incorporated company, help is available. Mark Tokarik, P.Eng. (firstname.lastname@example.org), Director of Registration; Bill Santo, P.Eng. (email@example.com), Assistant Director, Registration; Park Powell, P. Eng. (firstname.lastname@example.org), Assistant Director, Registration and their staff in Edmonton (800-661-7020) or Tom Sneddon, P. Geol. (email@example.com) in Calgary at (403-262-7714) will be pleased to provide consultation, and information.