After earning dual bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Earth & Planetary Sciences from the University of New Mexico, Western’s new Moncrief Chair in Petroleum Geology went on to earn a master of science degree in Geology from Utah State University, where she taught and studied sedimentology and stratigraphy, producing her thesis on “Sequence stratigraphic correlation of the Wheeler Formation: a geochemical approach.” She spent two summers in Canada and Alaska collecting core samples and other data related to how forest fires affect energy, water and nutrient exchanges between the land surface and atmosphere.
When it came time to launch her professional career, she saw an interesting opportunity at ExxonMobil Exploration Corp. in Houston. She applied, was hired and says she’s been intrigued with energy exploration ever since.
“From a scientific perspective, you use every aspect of geology — from mineralogy to sedimentology structure and geophysics,” she says, adding she was pleased to find her colleagues carefully attuned to the environmental concerns surrounding energy exploration and production.
“It’s an industry,” Petrie notes. “And in any industrial process, there are waste products that must be dealt with properly. Everyone I have worked with takes this responsibility very seriously.”
Her fascination – and growing expertise – carried Petrie clear around the world. Before returning to Utah State for her doctoral studies, she moved on from ExxonMobil to join Drillsearch Energy Ltd. in Sydney, Australia, as chief geologist, working on projects from the South Pacific to the North Atlantic, both onshore and offshore.
She brought her expertise and experience in applied geology and project management back to Logan, Utah, where she again taught at Utah State while earning her doctorate in Geology, awarded this past spring. Her doctoral thesis was titled, “Rock strength of cap rock lithologies: evidence for past seal failure, migration of fluids, and analysis of the reservoir-seal interface in outcrop and the subsurface.”
Petrie says Western’s Moncrief Petroleum Geology program attracted her, because it offers several unique opportunities to its students:
- A strong education in science and fundamental geology.
- Easy access to outcrops.
- Strong relationships with accomplished alumni working in the petroleum industry.
- Access to industry-standard software.
“Providing students with a solid geologic education prepares them to make well-thought-out, scientifically supported decisions when they are working in the industry,” she explains. “And there is an old saying that the best geologists have seen the most rocks.
“With our access to so many nearby geologic features, students can apply classroom principles to outcrop examples, while our sophisticated software allows them to use that geologic knowledge on subsurface data sets.”
Western’s Moncrief Petroleum Geology bears the name of a key Texas family immersed in the oil business for 85 years, with a large ranch in the Gunnison Valley. In addition to its ties with and contributions from Moncrief Oil, the program has received some $2.5 million in support from Paul Rady, a Western alumnus and co-founder of Denver-based Antero Resources, a developer of wells in the Appalachian Basin.
And once students graduate, Petrie points out, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists reports the median annual salary for a petroleum geologist with a fresh bachelor’s degree is $96,000, one of the higher figures for any four-year degree. She also notes that most of those currently working as petroleum geologists entered the field in the 1970s and ’80s
Petrie and her civil engineer husband have settled in Gunnison with their two children, active dog and a young flock of chickens. She says she looks forward to helping students explore geology and launch careers in a growing industry that figures in nearly every aspect of our lives.
“You can’t leave a room without touching something that comes from petroleum,” she says, “from fuel for heat and transportation to plastics and more – even the high-tech fabrics, skis, fishing tackle and mountain-bike tires we use to explore the amazing environment around Gunnison.”
Story and Photograph by Greg Smith, Western State Colorado University Communications