In early November 2002 I mailed in my application
to be licensed by the State of Texas as a Professional Geoscientist.
As a petroleum geologist and businessman practicing in the private
sector, I didn't really need to, being exempt under the Texas licensure
statute, which applies primarily to geoscientists practicing in
the environmental, water resources and engineering fields.
Nor am I philosophically very sympathetic with the
idea that state regulation is a reliable protector of the public
trust. After all, doctors, lawyers and engineers have been licensed
in Texas for years, but we still see frequent media reports about
mistreated patients and clients -- and consequential malpractice
Most faithful readers of this column have, by now,
recognized my faith in free markets as generally being more efficient
than government in solving such problems. Crummy doctors, crooked
lawyers and incompetent engineers will, sooner or later, find themselves
out of business as their tarnished reputations get around.
Trouble is, sometimes it takes too long -- and trusting
clients can get badly hurt in the meantime.
Following Adam Smith, I do recognize that there are
a few things government can do better than the free market -- protect
the borders, keep the public order, maintain the currency, regulate
interstate commerce, serve as the last safety net for the down-and-out.
Does state licensure of the geologic profession also
belong on that list?
I've had 10 years to think about this question, having
first become involved in the campaign for licensure of Texas geoscientists
in 1992. With a few misgivings, I conclude that the correct answer
is YES. And for all Texas public-sector geoscientists (and most
private-sector geoscientists and geophysicists as well) I think
it makes good business sense to be licensed.
probably will drive out a few unqualified practitioners who currently
seek project work in the public sector -- and it will provide a
sound legal and financial framework for disciplining geoscientists
who get out of line, being backed by the authority and resources
of the state.
That's likely to be more useful than the ineffective
sanctions of AAPG, AIPG or SIPES.
As soon as the "Grandfather period" expires on August 31, licensure
will establish some minimum standards of knowledge and experience
for all future applicants through a demanding qualifying examination.
This will provide some needed pressure on academic departments to
provide coursework of sufficient rigor and breadth that their graduates
will not only qualify, but also have a fair chance of passing the
In Texas it also will require state, county and municipal
geoscientists to demonstrate at least threshold competence.
even those in the private sector, occasionally may have to testify
in state regulatory hearings or litigation. Being licensed demonstrates
at least minimum competence, experience and character.
More important, it puts the geoscientist on an equal
footing with other recognized professionals who may be involved
in such testimony, especially engineers.
geoscientists recognize that theirs is a volatile business. Oil
and gas prices vary; companies merge; jobs vanish. A lot of successful
hydrologists, environmental geologists and geohazards specialists
started out as petroleum geoscientists. Some were downsized out
as the E&P business shrank over the past 17 years.
Such career shifts may also occur in the future,
so be prepared.
Also, some consulting geologists just want to maintain
a broad practice -- petroleum, ground water, environmental, etc.
public-sector geoscientists did not have equal standing with engineers
before the state, most became "second-class citizens," working at
substandard pay scales and always serving in subordinate positions
because they could not officially warrant the quality of project
work via a formal seal. That's why nearly all geotechnical and environmental
consulting firms are owned and operated by engineers -- and it's
one reason why some Texas engineers fought hard to keep Texas geoscientists
from becoming licensed.
This represents one of the admitted "down sides"
to state licensure -- the state-reinforced suppression of free trade
by those who are licensed, of those who are not. The new Texas board
of geoscientists must be alert not to allow such abuses to occur.
years, too many geologists and geophysicists did not think of themselves
as professionals, belonging to a professional community -- scientists,
or employees, or technicians, or prospectors, yes. Professionals,
no. (A surprisingly large number of geoscientists are not even members
of professional associations!) This has been a largely self-imposed
handicap, one that has hurt the geoscientific community badly. It
is, in my opinion, a chief cause of the absence of geoscientists
from corporate boardrooms and public policy forums.
Licensure may help us develop a more professional
self-image, which may lead in turn to growing -- and badly needed
-- public influence.
When my license to practice as a Texas geoscientist
arrives, I intend to put it in a dignified frame and hang it in
a special place on my office wall, next to the AAPG Code of Ethics.
It took a lot of sweat, worry, time and money to finally persuade
the State of Texas to license my profession and, even if my free-market,
limited-government philosophy winces a bit, I'm proud of it.
And as a long-standing businessman and geoscientist,
I believe the $200 is a sound business expense. I hope my Texas
geoscientist colleagues (as well as otherwise unlicensed out-of-state
geoscientists who intend to practice in Texas) will see it the same
Those seeking information should visit the Web site
of the Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists at http://www.tbpg.state.tx.us/.
Recommended reading: The
Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell: Little Brown Co., 2000. The
spread of new ideas, social trends and commercial products resembles
the progress of epidemics, taking off when they reach critical mass,
called "tipping points." Find out about key elements -- the Law
of the Few, Stickiness, and the Power of Context. A must for anyone
trying to grow a business.
Read it -- you'll like it!