Definition and Nature of Work

Petroleum engineers specialize in designing and developing technology and methods for digging the earth’s surface to extract oil and gas. They find means to obtain either natural gas or crude oil from the ground. In addition, petroleum engineers explore and discover new techniques to extract oil and gas from older wells all over the world.

Petroleum engineers typically work with geologists. They are both essential in the field. Petroleum engineers plan and supervise the drilling operations after the potential drill site has been determined. They ensure that the methods used provide maximum profitable recovery.

A Day in the Life of a Petroleum Engineer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 30,200 petroleum engineers employed in the country as of 2010. They usually work in laboratories or offices. However, they also have to work in drilling sites or gas and oil exploration and production sites. Petroleum engineers may also have to work in other countries. They install, monitor, supervise and maintain work sites.

Petroleum engineers are expected to work full time up to as much as 50 to 60 hours every week. This is especially true when they are onsite. They typically work in shifts or rotation such as 84 hours on duty and 84 hours off. Petroleum engineers also create computer simulations in order to predict the natural gas and petroleum flow in an oil field.

Becoming a Petroleum Engineer

A bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering is necessary to land an entry level position. Petroleum engineering is among the areas of specialty in engineering. Programs usually take four years to complete. There are universities that offer five year programs that automatically grant students a master’s degree. Most employers prefer applicants who have work experience.

With this, it is best that graduates earn academic credit from cooperative engineering programs before applying for a job. Individuals who want higher level positions need to complete additional training and education. In the U.S., trainees must obtain a license to become a professional engineer. Once the bachelor’s degree is complete, graduates may take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.

Passers will be given the title of Engineer Interns or Engineers in Training. Completing this phase will qualify them to taking the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Depending on the state’s requirement, they may have to undergo further training to keep their license.

Petroleum Employment and Outlook

The job and employment outlook for petroleum engineers is quite good. The BLS reports that the demand for these professionals is expected to increase by about 17 percent from 2010 to 2020. This means growth from 30,200 to 35,300 jobs. However, changes in oil prices could also affect employment growth.

If oil prices rise, the need for companies to hire more petroleum engineers will also increase. This is because companies will have to adopt more complex operations. They may have to drill deeper and find other areas where oil and gas are abundant.

In addition, the BLS pointed out that many petroleum engineers are going to retire. There will also be a growing need for petroleum engineers to work in an as-needed basis. Experienced engineers will become more attractive to bigger companies.

Petroleum Engineer Salary

In 2010, the BLS reported that a petroleum engineer’s mean annual wage was about $114,080. The Society of Petroleum Engineers also reported that there was a five percent increase in the median annual wage from 2009 to 2010. The top highest earners received about $166,400 while the lowest percentile earned around $63,480.

Meanwhile, the highest paying industry for petroleum engineers is oil and gas extraction that offers a median annual pay of $123,410. This is followed by petroleum and coal products manufacturing and mining support at $113,930 and $94,080 respectively.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Petroleum engineers have an option to obtain further education and training. Doing so will allow them to land higher-paying jobs. There are master’s and doctoral degrees available online and on-campus. Many companies send their employees for more training or formal education.

Many years of experience in the field can also provide them the knowledge and skills to start their own company or become a consultant for larger companies. Alternatively, they can teach university students.

Is the career the right one for you?

Before deciding on becoming a petroleum engineer, individuals should assess their skills and capabilities. This is because petroleum engineering is both intellectually and physically challenging. Petroleum engineers should possess excellent analytical skills that they can use to assess difficult drilling plans, potential problems and their solutions.

They should also be creative as they have to design methods to effectively extract oil and gas in the most profitable way. Exceptional math skills are equally important.

Experts highly recommend that graduates get into internship programs to be able to understand the nature of the career. Doing so will allow them to see what professional petroleum engineers do. They will learn how to work with other industry professionals like geologists and geophysicists.

Are there any Petroleum Engineer Associations?

Yes, there are a few, with the largest being the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

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