Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface.
What they do
Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.
Petroleum engineers typically do the following:
- Design equipment to extract oil and gas from onshore and offshore reserves deep underground
- Develop plans to drill in oil and gas fields, and then to recover the oil and gas
- Develop ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve to force out more oil or gas
- Make sure that oilfield equipment is installed, operated, and maintained properly
- Evaluate the production of wells through surveys, testing, and analysis
Oil and gas deposits, or reservoirs, are located deep in rock formations underground. These reservoirs can be accessed only by drilling wells, either on land, or at sea from offshore oil rigs.
Once oil and gas are discovered, petroleum engineers work with geoscientists and other specialists to understand the geologic formation of the rock containing the reservoir. They then determine the drilling methods, design the drilling equipment, implement the drilling plan, and monitor operations.
The best techniques currently being used recover only a portion of the oil and gas in a reservoir, so petroleum engineers also research and develop new ways to recover more of the oil and gas. This additional recovery helps to lower the cost of drilling and production.
The following are examples of types of petroleum engineers:
Completions engineers decide the best way to finish building wells so that oil or gas will flow up from underground. They oversee work to complete the building of wells—a project that might involve the use of tubing, hydraulic fracturing, or pressure-control techniques.
Drilling engineers determine the best way to drill oil or gas wells, taking into account a number of factors, including cost. They also ensure that the drilling process is safe, efficient, and minimally disruptive to the environment.
Production engineers take over wells after drilling is completed. They typically monitor wells’ oil and gas production. If wells are not producing as much as expected, production engineers figure out ways to increase the amount being extracted.
Reservoir engineers estimate how much oil or gas can be recovered from underground deposits, known as reservoirs. They study reservoirs’ characteristics and determine which methods will get the most oil or gas out of the reservoirs. They also monitor operations to ensure that optimal levels of these resources are being recovered.
Petroleum engineers generally work in offices or at drilling and well sites. Travel is frequently required to visit these sites or to meet with other engineers, oilfield workers, and customers.
Large oil and gas companies maintain operations around the world; therefore, petroleum engineers sometimes work in other countries. Petroleum engineers also must be able to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including other types of engineers, scientists, and oil and gas field workers.
How to become a Petroleum Engineer
Petroleum engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably petroleum engineering. However, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering may meet employer requirements. Employers also value work experience, so college cooperative-education programs, in which students earn academic credit and job experience, are valuable as well.
Students interested in studying petroleum engineering will benefit from taking high school courses in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and in science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.
Entry-level petroleum engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree programs include classes, laboratory work, and field studies in areas such as engineering principles, geology, and thermodynamics. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.
Some colleges and universities offer 5-year programs in chemical or mechanical engineering that lead to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Some employers prefer applicants who have earned a graduate degree. A graduate degree also allows an engineer to work as an instructor at some universities or in research and development.
ABET accredits programs in petroleum engineering.
The median annual wage for petroleum engineers was $137,720 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $79,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.
Employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Oil prices will be a major determinant of employment growth. Because many petroleum engineers work in oil and gas extraction, any changes in oil prices will likely affect employment levels. Higher prices can cause oil and gas companies to increase capital investment in new facilities and expand existing production operations. Typically, companies also expand exploration for new reserves of oil and gas when prices are high.
Demand for petroleum engineers in support activities for mining should continue to be strong, as large oil and gas companies find it convenient and cost effective to contract production and drilling work to these firms as needed.
Similar Job Titles
Completion Engineer, Drilling Engineer, Engineer, Operations Engineer, Petroleum Engineer, Petroleum Production Engineer, Project Production Engineer, Project Reservoir Engineer, Reservoir Engineer, Reservoir Engineering Consultant
Logistics Engineer, Mining and Geological Engineer (including Mining Safety Engineer), Validation Engineer, Energy Engineer, Geoscientist (except Hydrologist and Geographer)
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Association of Drilling Engineers
- American Association of Petroleum Geologists
- American Institute of Chemical Engineers
- American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers
- American Petroleum Institute
- Independent Petroleum Association of America
- International Association of Drilling Contractors
- National Society of Professional Engineers
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
Magazines and Publications
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Oil and Gas Journal
- Oil and Gas Engineering Magazine
- Hydrocarbon Engineering Magazine
Creativity is a quality more often associated with artists than engineers, but petroleum engineers need it— to develop new ways to extract oil and gas from below the Earth’s surface, and make old oil wells more productive. Oil and gas deposits reside deep in rock formations, accessible only by drilling wells on land or at sea. Petroleum engineers work with other scientists to map geological formations and determine drilling methods, design equipment, run the drilling plan, and monitor operations. These engineers analyze data to anticipate flaws or complications in a drilling plan before a project begins. They work hard to consider all potential issues, and to quickly address problems that do occur. Most petroleum engineers work in the oil industry… though some work in related manufacturing, or manage companies in the oil industry. They generally work in offices or research laboratories, as well as at drilling sites to monitor operations— often for extended periods. Petroleum engineers work around the world, and must work effectively with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Full-time hours are typical, and overtime is common. Hours are longer at drill sites. Employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering, although some accept a degree in mechanical or chemical engineering as well.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org