Certification and Registration
of Geologists and Geophysicists in the USA
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
These are basically:
Not have committed acts or crimes constituting grounds for denial
of license under a section of another Act.
Education - must meet certain educational requirements fulfilled
at a school or university whose curricula meet criteria established
by rules of the Board.
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.
Pass a written examination (may be waived if the individual is the
holder of an equivalent certificate of registration in another state
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Authorization: Provision is made for the practice of geology, geophysics
or the specialties for a specific project for a limited period.
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.
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.
Example of State Registration Requirements - Georgia
Legislation: Registration of Geologists Act of 1975, amended to
1987, Chapter 19 of Professions and Businesses Code, and Rules of
Board amended to 1983.
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
"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)
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".
Teaching (solely) the science of geology, non-public geologic research,
federal or state employees, subordinate geologists.
Registered geologist; Registered certified specialty geologist.
Education: Degree from accredited college or university approved
by the Board, or equivalent academic courses.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The State of Georgia and its political subdivisions are required
to contract for geological services only with registered geologists
or firms employing registered geologists.
Example of State Certification Requirements - Indiana
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.
Defines "Certified professional geologist", "Geology",
"Qualified Geologist", "Responsible position",
and "Professional geological work".
Certified professional geologist.
for Certification: Certification by AIPG or the following:
Degree from accredited institution or equivalent academic courses.
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.
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.
of Ethics: None.
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.
Summary of State Legislation
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.