Chapter 7
Certification and Registration
of Geologists and Geophysicists in the USA

Engineering Registration

7.1 Registration of the professions in the United States experienced a slow and sluggish start, beginning with dentists in 1883. The first registration law governing the practice of engineering (and land surveying) was passed in 1907 (Wyoming). Other states followed suit in a slow but steady procession.

7.2 The authority to regulate the practice of a profession in the United States is a right reserved to the states pursuant to the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution relating to the police powers of the state. Today, all 50 states and the five jurisdictions - District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands and North Marianas Islands have laws regulating the practice of engineering and/or land surveying. Each state board responsible for professional licensing operates within the framework of individual state laws. For engineering, considerable progress has been made over several decades in promoting uniformity of standards by the national organization - the National Council of Engineering Examiners (whose name was changed in 1989 to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)). The NCEES developed and maintains a Model Law as a basis for registration in individual states.

Geologists and Geophysicists

7.3 Registration of geologists and geophysicists in the USA has lagged well behind engineers and does not appear to have begun until the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1984 there were ten states which registered or certified geologists - Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Oregon and Virginia. North Carolina introduced legislation in 1984 to be effective January 1, 1985. By December 1989 four additional states - Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee - had introduced legislation, increasing the number to 15. Others currently have laws in preparation. Three states have a statutory definition for geologists - Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. Only California registers geophysicists.

7.4 Although most of the US states "register" geologists, there are four that "certify" geologists - Alaska, Indiana, Maine and Virginia. "Registration" is a legally established process that: has a definitive set of qualifications that are needed to practice, has established codes of professional conduct, has disciplinary procedures in place with penalties for members who fail to practice professionally, and has regulations which prohibit practice by unauthorized persons. "Certification", on the other hand, generally consists of the process of examining the qualifications of geologists relative to certain academic and other standards, and certifying the competence of individuals who satisfy these standards.

7.5 There appear, however, to be slightly varying degrees of certification among the four state boards which have certification legislation. Indiana's certification program, for example, is "designed entirely to establish professional competence in geology". Indiana and Maine require geological documents to be sealed by certified geologists; Virginia's legislation in that regard is permissive.

7.6 Up to 1989 there has not been a US national organization similar to NCEES (or the CCPE in Canada) for engineers, which promotes country-wide universal and common registration standards for geologists. In 1989 representatives of southeastern US state boards held a number of meetings to discuss matters of mutual interest. This group has adopted the title "Association of State Boards of Geology" and is preparing a charter and bylaws.

7.7 Registration and certification requirements vary from state to state in some cases, and in others the legislation is similar. The major parameters for the 15 states are summarized in Table 1. More detailed information for California, and for Georgia and Indiana, as examples of states which register and certify geologists, is given in paragraphs 7.8 through 7.17.

The California Geologists and Geophysicists Act

7.8 A discussion of registration of geologists and geophysicists in California is appropriate because, like Alberta, it is a jurisdiction which regulates the practice of both the professions of geology and geophysics.

7.9 An article by Henry H. Neel, Past National President of the California Section, Association of Professional Geological Scientists, "History of the Registration of Geologists in California" is repeated in Appendix G, and provides informative background on how the regulation process evolved. The California Act was enacted in 1968. It began with geologists only; in the early 1960s, the Board approached the geophysicists who initially rejected the concept of legal registration on the grounds of their work being strictly "technical". However, registration was permitted as "Registered Geologists". This satisfied some geophysicists, but not those who had education in mathematics, physics and other disciplines related to geophysics. Therefore in 1972, the Act was amended to include registration of geophysicists.

7.10 According to the California State Board newsletter December 1983, the purpose of any occupational licensing law is to protect the citizens of the state, and this was very appropriately stated in the first paragraph of the original bill (AB 600) that was signed into law by Governor Reagan in 1968. The paragraph reads:

This chapter is enacted in order to introduce qualifying criteria in a presently unregulated professional field. Such action recommends itself through benefits to the safety, health and property of the people of the State of California and to the promotion of the public welfare. These benefits are in the fields of geology as related to engineering, groundwater, mineral exploration and development, geologic hazards, the further development of the science of geology, and other geologic matters of concern to the people of the State.

7.11 The legislature delegated authority to the Board to administer the Geologist and Geophysicist Act (Chapter 12.5 of the Business and Professions Code of California). It has been given specific authority to regulate the geology and geophysics professions by licensing qualified applicants, disciplining licensees who violate the Act, investigating and aiding in the prosecution of unlicensed practice, and establishing regulations to implement, interpret, and make clear the Act. In taking the lead on licensing, it also works toward establishing relations with other states for the purpose of working towards uniformly high professional standards and mutual recognition of registration.

7.12 The California Act provides for the registration of geologists and geophysicists as "Registered Geologists" and "Registered Geophysicists", and also for certification in specialty areas for which the designation is "Registered Certified Specialty Geologist (or Geophysicist)". In 1984 there was only one designated specialty, that of Engineering Geology. The Act, and accompanying Rules and Regulations, also contain specific and detailed definitions of geology, geophysics; the practices of geology and geophysics; professional work and responsible charge. It provides an exemption for geologists and geophysicists who do not practice geology and geophysics "for others" ("for others" meaning the public) - such persons may call themselves geologists and geophysicists but are not required to be registered.

Qualifications for Registration

7.13 These are basically:

1. Not have committed acts or crimes constituting grounds for denial of license under a section of another Act.

2. Education - must meet certain educational requirements fulfilled at a school or university whose curricula meet criteria established by rules of the Board.

3. At least 7 years of professional experience, including either 3 years under supervision or 5 years in responsible charge, of which undergraduate study, teaching, graduate work can count towards experience.

4. Pass a written examination (may be waived if the individual is the holder of an equivalent certificate of registration in another state or country.)

7.14 The State Board of Registration, which administers the Act, consists of three professional and five public members appointed by the Governor of California, the Senate Rules Committee and the Speaker of the Assembly, for four-year terms. Two geologists and one geophysicist comprise the professional members. The Board is primarily a licensing body, and does not offer membership and communications services. This mode of operation and terms of reference are typical of the engineering and geologist registration boards in the USA. There are four standing committees listed in the Act - Legislative Committee, Executive Committee, Professional Affairs Committee and Examination Committee. The Professional Affairs Committee (or Professional Practice Committee) serves as a fact-finding and reviewing committee for the Board to develop guidelines for professional practice and to propose regulations which pertain to professional practice.

7.15 A summary of some of the other provisions of the California Act are given below:

Exemptions: Federal officers and employers practising solely as such, geologists and geophysicists subordinate to a registered geologist/geophysicist, and civil and petroleum engineers practising in their field are exempt from registration. A corporate entity whose principal business is other than geology or geophysics is not prohibited from employing a geologist or geophysicist to perform professional services incidental to its business.

Signing and Sealing: All geological and geophysical plans, specifications, reports or documents shall be prepared, signed and sealed by a registered geologist, registered geophysicist, or registered certified speciality geophysicist/geologist. Design of the seal is specified in the Rules and Regulations.

Discipline: The Board has authority and acts on disciplinary matters where the following violations are alleged to have occurred: conviction of a crime substantially related to the practice of a geologist and geophysicist; unskilled practice, incompetency, misrepresentation, fraud, and negligence; violating the Act; aiding and abetting violation of the Act. However, the penalties are limited to reproval, revocation or suspension.

Code of Ethics: Unlike some of the other states which register geologists, California does not have a code of ethics or of professional conduct specified in its legislation.

Temporary Authorization: Provision is made for the practice of geology, geophysics or the specialties for a specific project for a limited period.

Prohibitions and Penalties: Eight specific offenses related to and unlawful practice of geology and geophysics and other areas are listed. These misdemeanours are each punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment of up to 3 months or both fine and imprisonment. Injunctions against illegal practice may be issued by the superior court.

Corporate Practice: The Act does not prohibit one or more geologists or geophysicists from practising under a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation, but if the primary activity consists of geological or geophysical services, at least one partner or officer shall be registered.

7.16 Example of State Registration Requirements - Georgia

Governing Legislation: Registration of Geologists Act of 1975, amended to 1987, Chapter 19 of Professions and Businesses Code, and Rules of Board amended to 1983.

Administered by: Georgia State Board of Registration for Professional Geologists. Operates under the detailed set of rules set out in legislation. Consists of 5 geologists each from specified employment sectors and one public member, all appointed by state, and the Commissioner of Natural Resources or his designated agent as permanent ex-officio member. Attorney-General of State or designate acts as Board's legal advisor.

Purpose: "In order to safeguard life, health and property and to promote the public welfare, the practice of geology in this state is declared to be subject to regulation in the public interest. This chapter is intended to introduce qualifying criteria in a previously unregulated professional field. Such action recommends itself through benefits to the safety, health and property of the people of this state and to the promotion of the public welfare. These benefits are in the fields of geology as related to engineering, groundwater, mineral exploration and development, geologic hazards, the further development of the science of geology and other geologic matters of concern to the people of the state." (Act 43-19-2)

Definitions: The Act defines "Geologist"; "Geology" - makes reference to benefit to mankind; "Public practice of geology"; "Qualified geologist" - one who is qualified for registration but not registered; "Registered geologist"; "Registered certified specialty geologist"; "Responsible charge of work" and "Subordinate".

Exemptions: Teaching (solely) the science of geology, non-public geologic research, federal or state employees, subordinate geologists.

Title: Registered geologist; Registered certified specialty geologist.

Qualifications for Registration:

Education: Degree from accredited college or university approved by the Board, or equivalent academic courses.


1. 7 years of professional geological work, including at least 3 under supervision or at least 5 in responsible charge.

2. Education and experience combined may count towards the 7 years.

3. Ability demonstrated by having performed responsible work to satisfaction of Board.


Good ethical character.

Registered geologists are eligible for certification in a specialty; must meet specified experience requirements. Examinations may be waived.

Certificates and Seals: Certificates are issued on registration and renewed biennially. Drawings, reports or other geologic papers or documents involving the practice of geology shall be sealed with the seal of the registrant or specialist. Seal design authorized by the Board.

Code of Ethics: A code of professional conduct is set out in State Board Rules. Ten articles, quite similar to APEGGA's pre-1987 code of ethics.

Discipline: Board is empowered to discipline registrants who registered fraudulently, were involved in gross negligence, incompetence or misconduct, any felony or crime involving moral turpitude, the commission of any unlawful act as set forth in the Geologist's Act. Penalties - suspension, revocation or non-renewal of certificates.

Prohibitions: Practice or offering to practice geology publicly for others by non-registered persons, use of another's seal, false evidence for registration, impersonation of registrant, practice while under suspension. These constitute misdemeanours.

Corporate Practice: Practice as sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation is permitted; at least one partner or officer must be registered. Non-registered geologists may perform non-public geological services (in-house) for firms whose principal business is other than public practice of geology.

General: The State of Georgia and its political subdivisions are required to contract for geological services only with registered geologists or firms employing registered geologists.

7.17 Example of State Certification Requirements - Indiana

Governing Legislation: Certification of Geologists Regulations No. 1, (310 IAC 9-2). Adopted by Resolution of Natural Resources Commission, Indiana Department of Natural Resources December 1979.

Administered by: Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, Bloomington, Indiana. Certification Panel consists of State Geologist plus 6 other geologists.

Definitions: Defines "Certified professional geologist", "Geology", "Qualified Geologist", "Responsible position", and "Professional geological work".

Exemptions: None listed.

Title: Certified professional geologist.

Qualifications for Certification: Certification by AIPG or the following:

Education: Degree from accredited institution or equivalent academic courses.


1. 7 years of professional geological work, including at least 3 years under supervision of a certified professional geologist, or at least 5 years in responsible position.

2. Education, teaching and experience may be combined to count towards the experience requirement.

Good moral character.

Certificates and Seals: Issued on certification. Design of seal specified in regulation and is inscribed with the words "Certified professional geologist, State of Indiana" and certificate number. Sealing of documents not a requirement of the regulation, but sealing by non-certified individuals is prohibited.

Code of Ethics: None.

Discipline: No disciplinary provisions, but conviction of felony or crime involving moral turpitude is treated as a conviction under the regulation and may lead to suspension or revocation.

Prohibitions: None.

Summary of State Legislation

Click here to see Table 1
Summary of State Board Requirements

7.18 Table 1 is a summary of the requirements of the 15 American states which register or certify geologists. In all cases the state boards have been established as government agencies, either as individual entities or part of a department. The state government appoints the board members which include public members. This is the major difference between registration/certification processes in the USA and those of the self-governing professions in Canada. For those states which have a defined "purpose" in their legislation, the words invariably are to "protect life, property, health and the public welfare" or some variation of this phrase.

7.19 As to academic requirements for registration, most states require graduation with a four-year bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, although one or two require graduation from a "program" that is accredited or acceptable to the board. For eight states, the experience requirement is seven years; others require five years. Periods of the required experience include time under supervision and in responsible charge. Credit is usually given for education, higher degrees and teaching. For 11 states, examinations are required.

7.20 Eleven states have codes of ethics embodied in their legislation. With three exceptions, all states have disciplinary procedures in place - the exceptions being Indiana and Alaska which certify geologists, and Tennessee. Although not included in the parameters listed in Table 1, legislation of most of the states includes regulations about practice prohibitions and corporate practice.

7.21 Table 1 was prepared from a review of the legislation obtained from the various state boards. For further details, the individual state boards or agencies should be consulted.

American Institute of Professional Geologists Registration Position

7.22 The AIPG has tended to generally oppose individual state registration and licensing. As in most geological and geophysical organizations, the pros and cons of registration received a good deal of attention over the years.

7.23 The Executive Committee of the AIPG adopted the following new policy regarding state registration and licensing on October 6, 1989:

AIPG believes that its certification of professionals by their peers as to their competence and ethical behaviour is to be preferred as the most effective available means to protect the public health, safety and welfare. Self-regulation is the most desirable form of certification and regulation of professional practice.

However, AIPG recognizes that there are jurisdictions in which self-regulation provides no legal standing, thus adversely affecting the geologists' ability to practice their profession to effectively protect public health, safety, and welfare. If the Certified Professional Geologists in such a jurisdiction find that the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare requires the statutory regulation of geologists, AIPG will support efforts to assure sound and reasonable statutory regulation appropriate to the conditions of that jurisdiction.

As the national organization of professional geologists, AIPG recognizes the need for and advocates uniformity of standards so that the mobility of geologists will not be impeded, and so that their varied skills may be available throughout the nation.