A geologist is a broad professional title within the geosciences. Generally speaking, geologists study the materials that make up the Earth, the processes acting upon the Earth, the organisms that have inhabited the Earth and how all these things have changed over time. Geologists are employed in many sectors, such as environmental consulting companies, governmental agencies, engineering firms and nonprofit organizations, as well as colleges and universities. Salaries vary widely among sectors. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required for entry level positions, but most jobs require postgraduate degrees.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2011 salary data, the median annual salary for geologists in all sectors and geographic locations in the United States is $84,470, with the bottom 10 percentile making $45,940 and the top 10 percentile making $170,510. The states paying the highest average salaries are Oklahoma, at $142,310; Texas, at $130,200; Alaska, at $104,360; Colorado, at $103,730; and Massachusetts, at $100,290.
The highest salaries for geologists are in the petroleum and mineral resource industries. According to the 2012-2013 Edition of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, geologists employed in the oil and gas extraction industry have an average annual salary of $125,350. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists' 2010 salary survey revealed that salary levels have increased about 7.9 percent over the previous year. According to the AAPG, petroleum geologists with less than two years of experience have an average salary of $93,000; for six to nine years of experience, it jumps to $127,800; for 15 to 20 years, the average is $151,100; and for more than 25 years, the low end of the pay scale is $148,000 while the high end tops a whopping $600,000.
Environmental geologists work primarily in the government sector and for private sector consulting firms, including architectural and engineering services and scientific and technical consulting companies. The number of environmental geologists has been growing steadily for more than a decade, driven by concerns over climate change and increased environmental regulations. Although numbers are on the rise and employment is more stable for environmental geologists than it is for petroleum geologists, the pay averages about 10 to 40 percent less. According to the BLS, geologists working for federal government agencies had an annual mean wage of $96,170 in 2011, while state agencies paid only $63,910.
Geologists with a Ph.D. can teach geology at colleges and universities. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for a college professor of geology is $83,140, with the bottom 10 percentile making $42,590 and the top 10 percentile making $152,270. Colleges and universities pay an average of $92,850, while community colleges pay an average of $87,200. The top-paying states for geology professors are New York, at $112,500; California, at $110,310; Rhode Island, at $107,650; Massachusetts, at $104,430; and New Jersey at $101,150.