What you need to know
Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.
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.
Some of the things a petroleum engineer might do:
- 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
- Analytical skills. Petroleum engineers must be able to compile and make sense of large amounts of technical information and data in order to ensure that facilities operate safely and effectively.
- Creativity. Because each new drill site is unique and therefore presents new challenges, petroleum engineers must be able to come up with creative designs to extract oil and gas.
- Interpersonal skills. Petroleum engineers must work with others on projects that require highly complex machinery, equipment, and infrastructure. Communicating and working well with other engineers and oil and gas workers is crucial to ensuring that projects meet customer needs and run safely and efficiently.
- Math skills. Petroleum engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
- Problem-solving skills. Identifying problems in drilling plans is critical for petroleum engineers because these problems can be costly. Petroleum engineers must be careful not to overlook any potential issues and must quickly address those which do occur.
The average pay for petroleum engineers in the United States ranges from $74,400 to $208,000.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than 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. 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 also should be strong, as large oil and gas companies find it convenient and cost effective to contract production and drilling work to these firms on an as-needed basis.
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.
Discover some of the courses you will take pursuing a degree in Petroleum Engineering.