Terri-Jane Yuzda

Not Only Regulators Call for Licensure

Editor With the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Gives Support

Editor's Note: This column is one in a series prepared
by the APEGGA Compliance Department.



Director, Compliance

A professional geologist, licensed with APEGGA, noticed the following commentary in a U.S. publication. The geologist is a member who has taken an interest in this department's goal of achieving 100 per cent compliance in the registration of geoscientists in Alberta.

The article singles out geologists, identifying the reasons for licensure and supporting licensure. Similar reasoning can be applied to geophysics and engineering. Of particular significance is that the article was published by a non-regulatory body - not a regulatory one, such as APEGGA or a state board - and therefore represents support from outside the regulatory function.


The intention of state licensure laws is generally to protect the public welfare, safety, and the environment, by regulating the practice of geology. Because geologic hazards, environmental contamination, and permitting often directly affect the public safety and welfare, states are increasingly driven to regulate the practice of geology. In addition, costs for remediation of contaminated sites, hazard studies, water supply studies, and environmental impact studies are not cheap. The public or their resources can be harmed by unqualified practitioners practicing geology. A lot is at stake when something goes wrong.

Persons engaging in the practice of geology are required by state laws to register with the state(s) in which they practice in order to be accountable for their work products before the public. The registration or licensure process typically includes documenting education, relevant professional work experience, and competence in the field by successfully passing an examination.

Numerous environmental geologists working on cleanups of petroleum contaminated sites are affected by these laws. Texas and Utah illustrate recent examples of new licensure programs that will affect environmental and engineering geologists, in particular. Often for states like these to be successful in passing licensure laws, legislators include an exemption for geologists practicing in the extractive minerals and oil and gas industries. Furthermore, petroleum and minerals geologists often work in proprietary settings, and may not directly affect the public through their practice.

Carrots and Sticks

Licensure programs can be effective for the public in two ways. First, the gate-keeping function intends to limit licensed geologists to only qualified people, who the public can readily identify. Second, programs allow that the unlawful or unprofessional practitioner can be disciplined. Although the motivation for state legislatures may be to protect public safety, welfare, and the environment, a secondary effect of licensure is the tendency to raise the bar of professionalism. Licensed or registered practitioners recognize that their reputation and livelihood are at stake for any project they work on.

Practitioners can display a credential to potential clients or employers showing that they have achieved a minimum set of standards. It is one benchmark that the public can use to ascertain if a geologist is qualified to be in charge of the work.

Even with an "industry exemption" for petroleum and minerals, many petroleum geologists and AAPG members, as well as the environmental geologists, are opting to become licensed or registered -- whether or not it is required for the specific tasks they perform. Independent consultants may find the extra credential beneficial in setting themselves apart from others.

On a practical note, a petroleum geologist may not be employed as a petroleum geologist forever. Job or position changes within and between companies may require re-tooling to a different discipline, such as environmental geology. The license then becomes an asset when marketing or job hunting.

Of course a license does not preclude unlawful practice of geology. Some practitioners may not find the credibility and credentials garnered from registration enough incentive to always perform in a way that minimizes their liability.

The stick is the answer for them. Unprofessional or unlawful conduct is met with a disciplinary system that follows due process. In contrast, the public has no recourse to rectify unlawful or unprofessional geologic work, except through the courts, when no licensure law exists.

Most registration laws prohibit professional geologists from practicing outside their areas of expertise. If a professional geologist is found to be practicing outside their qualifications, the public has a mechanism to file a complaint for the state to investigate and discipline the practitioner, if warranted.

Recent Laws

Two states with new licensure laws and a lot of AAPG members are Texas and Utah. Both states are in the process of setting policies and rules and creating an opportunity for qualified practitioners to be licensed. Texas will allow applicants to qualify without an examination until Sept. 1, 2003, and Utah will allow applicants to qualify without an examination until Dec. 31, 2003.

The above article is republished with permission from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Explore. It appeared in August 2002 on the REPORTER page.

Background on the AAPG

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists, an international organization and the world's largest single geological professional society, supports the professional practice of geology in its environmental, ground water and engineering applications, as well as in oil and gas exploration and development. AAPG is concerned that properly qualified individuals with the highest professional and ethical standards should practice geology.

To that end, the association instituted its Division of Professional Affairs in 1965. That was followed by the Division of Environmental Geosciences in 1992.

The divisions and the membership affirm that the public practice of geology should be conducted by individuals who have satisfactorily demonstrated that they possess the necessary educational qualifications and practical experience to do so in a professional and ethical manner.


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