Careers in Geoscience: Coal Exploration

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Careers in Geoscience: Coal Exploration

Coal exploration geologists are employed by various organisations working within the coal industry. They are responsible for identifying and assessing the location, quality and size of coal deposits within exploration permits for Coal. Their work can be office based, although fieldwork is necessary, including field mapping, drilling and sampling from drill core. Coal exploration geologists generally work for publicly listed mining and exploration companies although there are some private companies in the sector.


Coal exploration aims to locate coal deposits for underground or open-cut coal development, generally located in coal producing basins in QLD (Bowen, Galilee and Surat), NSW (Sydney).

Typical duties include:

  • Compilation and analysis of historical data including geophysics, field mapping, coal quality and drilling
  • Target generation based on available data
  • Planning exploration programs to test targets generated
  • Assist in collection of samples in the field, including:
    • geophysical data - 2D/3D seismic, gravity and magnetic surveys
    • field mapping data – lithology data, strike/dip, structure
    • chip samples – lithology data, proximate analysis
    • core samples – lithology data, geotechnical analysis
    • Coal Quality samples – Coal quality data
  • Analysing geological data using specialist computer applications, modelling data in 2D and 3D
  • Reporting to management, state authorities and/or shareholders (ASX)
  • Advising managerial, technical and engineering on the development of projects.
Skills Required

The job carries a high level of responsibility, as the employee must ensure the accuracy of information and forecasts – initiating extraction processes is often very expensive and mistakes can be costly. Consequently, training is an important feature of the job.

Typical skills required are:

  • Knowledge of a range of sciences and their applications
  • Ability to work within a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers
  • Good organisational skills
  • Practical
  • Computer literacy and ability to analyse numerical and graphical data
  • Good written and verbal communication skills
  • Geological mapping, rock recognition, structural geology, knowledge of geophysics, GIS, practical.




University unit suggestions

Core Subjects
structural geology
coal quality
Specialty Subjects
coal petrology


Statutory Requirements

Competent person for reporting to ASX is required to have at least five years’ experience in the commodity and activities engaged in (generally recognised by membership level of AIG as a minimum requirement).
Transitioning to Full Member

Full members of the AIG can sign off on ASX reports given that they have sufficient experience to satisfy the “competent person” designation (under the JORC Code 2012) for the commodity and information on which they are reporting.  A Graduate Member can transition to Full Membership once they have achieved a minimum of five years relevant experience.

The JORC Code states that “a Competent Person must have a minimum of five years relevant experience in the style of mineralisation or type of deposit under consideration and in the activity which that person in undertaking”. Further information can be obtained from the JORC website and copies of the code can be downloaded.


Job Opportunities

Coal Exploration geologists are typically employed by consulting organisations, ASX listed Junior Explorers, mid-tier mining companies, major mining companies specialising in coal.  To a lesser extent, exploration contracting companies, geophysical contractors, government, CSIRO and private tenure holders may employ coal exploration geologists.  In Australia these are predominantly located in Queensland and New South Wales.





Residential/Lifestyle Options

  • More likely based in capital city or regional centre (e.g Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle, Muswellbrook, Singleton, Mackay, Moranbah) with work areas either locally or remote
  • Fly in Fly out or drive in drive out on set roster system
  • Can be campaign based (operate at exploration site for duration of work program such as drill program)
  • Often involves up to 70% field time in early years reducing to around 20% experienced and management geoscientists

Pros & Cons

  • Opportunities for travel, domestic and international
  • Varied work programs
  • Multi skilling and multi-disciplinary teamwork required
  • Outdoor lifestyle


  • Absence from home for long periods of time is common and international work is often necessary
  • Long hours, shift and weekend work are also regularly required, irregular schedules
  • Exploration does not always meet with success


Do you work a regular length day/week?

Coal exploration geoscientists often are based in major cities and travel to their work sites when field work is required. When they are working in the city/regional offices they would work a regular day/week. When they are carrying out field work they may work on a roster or on a campaign basis and this may involve longer work days and/or shift work.

How much time do you spend in the bush?

Depending on location, field work is generally organised in rosters/cycles which can vary but commonly are 2/1 (2 weeks working followed by 1 week off) or 8/6 (8 days working followed by 6 days off).  Some companies work on a campaign basis (period of field work based on a task such as a drilling program) which is variable depending on the job.  A graduate geoscientist can expect to spend up to 70% of their time collecting data/samples/drilling in the field.

Where is a coal exploration geologist likely to be based?

In Australia, working in coal exploration you are most likely to be based out of capital cities or in major coal producing regional centres such as Newcastle, Singleton or Wollongong in NSW or Mackay, Moranbah or Emerald in QLD.

Are there opportunities to work overseas?

Yes, coal exploration is active all over the world and Australian geoscientists have a good reputation in this field. Coal exploration is particularly carried out in Indonesia, India, China and USA.

Should I  do science at school?

Yes, a solid grounding of mathematics and science (in particular chemistry and physics) is important for all areas of geoscience practice. If Geology/Earth Science is available at school level it is highly recommended.

Do I need to be physically fit?

Working as a geoscientist can be physically demanding.  Field work generally involves various physical activities particularly in remote areas. Whether it be walking to get to a site, mapping, collecting and carrying samples, working around drill site or working from 4WD vehicles or helicopters a good level of fitness is generally required.

As a geoscientist do you work with new technology?

Geoscience is often at the cutting edge of new technology.  Many of the current gaming platforms were developed from 3D computing technology developed within the mining industry. New technologies are constantly being used and developed within the geoscience professions to enhance our knowledge of the earth. Modelling techniques, visualisation and the use of mobile technology are widely used.


The following are video and You Tube links that are relevant to this career path.

AIG Career Session 1; Energy –  Coal, Oil and Gas and CSG (64 mins)

A panel of experienced geoscientists from the Coal, Oil and Gas and CSG industries talk about what they do each day, how they broke into the industry, transferring between industries, demand for geologist in their sector and tips for breaking into their sector.

Fact Sheets

See also sheets for related career paths