Petroleum engineers design the methods and tools needed to extract oil and gas from underground reservoirs for national energy needs. They help locate these reservoirs on land or offshore, and study how to obtain the most product per drill site.
They work with geoscientists and other professionals to maximise safety and minimise environmental impact. They oversee the installation, operation, maintenance and testing of all oilfield wells and extraction equipment.
- Survey sites and take samples to assess the location, quantity and quality of oil and gas resources
- Analyse findings to recommend placement of wells and equipment needed for extraction
- Assess viability of site, including cost-benefit analysis and scale of operation required
- Develop plans for drilling, wells and operations to maximise recovery of oil and gas resources
- Consult with geoscientists, engineers and other experts on technical and environmental issues
- Oversee building, surveying and testing of wells, drill equipment and other site development
- Direct and coordinate staff contributing to research, planning and operations
- Maintain records of all plans, construction, production and testing data
- Present and interpret technical reports to management staff
- Conduct experiments to discover improvements in drilling and maximum resource extraction
- Monitor and direct dismantling of drilling sites, including waste removal and land stabilisation
Skills and qualities
Petroleum engineers start in entry level positions, typically under the supervision of a licensed engineer. As you gain experience, you may move on to roles with more responsibility and on larger projects. Gaining your licence, certification and additional education will also assist you in career advancement.
Many petroleum engineers specialise in one aspect of their field, such as drilling, reservoir, production or completions engineering. Some engineers use their expertise to go into related product sales. You may also choose to offer your knowledge and experience as an independent consultant.
Earning a graduate degree opens you up to more job opportunities in project management, university teaching, and research and development.
Overtime work likely
Most petroleum engineers work full time, splitting their time between the office and at drilling and well sites. You may need to work overtime, particularly when overseeing a new drilling site or when troubleshooting a problem. Petroleum engineers that work for larger corporations may have to travel out of state or internationally.
Work on site can be hazardous, with dangers from heavy machinery, moving vehicles, high-pressure lines and flammable vapours and gases. Petroleum engineers must wear protective equipment, have good spatial awareness and follow all safety procedures.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Qualifications and training
Bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering
Petroleum engineers must have a BS degree in petroleum engineering or a related engineering field such as chemical, mechanical or civil. Some colleges and universities offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree course that takes five years to complete. Petroleum engineering jobs for large projects with a lot of responsibility may require a graduate degree.
Entry-level petroleum engineers do not need to be licensed. Passing your state’s version of the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, however, can set you above other job candidates. After four years of work experience, petroleum engineers can sit for the Professional Engineering (PE) exam and earn their licence. Licenced engineers can work in supervisory roles, lead projects or run their own business.
Certification is also available from the Society of Petroleum Engineers. You must have an undergraduate engineering degree, four years combined of experience and training, and pass an exam. Licensed petroleum engineers in North America can typically have the test requirement waived.
SourcesABET Bureau of Labor Statistics National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) O*NET OnLine Oxford Martin School Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE)
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022