Career Path Options for a Petroleum Engineer

The average value of the Bachelor degree needed to become a Petroleum engineers is $2,327,027.00.

Petroleum (or crude oil) is an essential raw material for modern life. According to the “Petroleum Engineering Overview” from the Career Cornerstone Organization, the United States consumes more than 840 million gallons of petroleum a year. It uses the raw components of crude oil for a wide variety of products: candles, fertilizer, food, ink, perfume, plastics, and soap. The transportation sector depends upon a petroleum base for making the asphalt for roads; airplanes, automobiles, motorcycles, and trucks all require gasoline to function. Heating oil keeps homes warm during the winter. Crude oil is an important element in all of our lives.

Crude oil is the byproduct of extreme pressure and temperature combining with the biological material of decomposed bodies from tiny aquatic plants and animals over many years. With such extensive usage of petroleum there is concern over whether our oil supply will eventually run out. Oil is essential to the functioning of the modern civilization. Petroleum engineers have the job of extracting the scarce oil from difficult environments.

Petroleum engineers will be involved in searching for potential underground oil fields. They will design, plan, and model every stage of the project to extract the petroleum. They will deal with problems as they continually evaluate, identify, and improve processes. They will be responsible for maintenance, safety, government compliance, and planning system upgrades. Advanced jobs include teaching, consulting, and working with a variety of investment businesses and banks.

Nature of Work

Petroleum engineers are involved in every step of the process of designing, searching for, discovering, drilling, and processing hydrocarbons found deep underground. Petroleum engineers work closely with many different professionals, especially geologists, to create models for mapping out the likely location of petroleum deposits. These engineers are also involved in the cost analysis projections determining how much valuable petroleum is located in underground reservoirs.

petroleum engineer


Professional engineers design computer models, equipment, and processes for finding oil under the ground. These petroleum experts establish the methods for oil and gas well exploration. They help decide where companies will look for petroleum.


Once a potential petroleum reservoir is located, the petroleum engineer will guide, supervise, and manage the collection of underground samples for testing and analysis to determine if the geological structures are conducive to petroleum creation. If there is a high probability of oil being present, then professional engineers must analyze data to recommend placement of drilling rigs and methods for production.

Multinational corporations invest millions, if not billions of dollars on projects aimed at finding oil. They depend upon the scientific expertise of petroleum engineers to make cost estimations for production capabilities and the economic value of oil and gas wells. This will determine the economic viability of potential drilling.


The most obvious surface oil reservoirs were used up a long time ago, devoured by the hungry consumption of industry. Most modern searches for petroleum reserves are involved in more difficult-to-reach geological formations – deep waters, mountains, and frozen environments. Exploration involves continual analysis of geological water and rock formations and their properties in order to find likely areas where hydrocarbons – petroleum and natural gas – may be hidden.


Extensive usage of computer software providing models for analyzing underground rock and fluid reservoirs helps predict potential petroleum reservoirs. Sometimes, oil companies only drill for oil when gasoline prices are high enough to justify the tremendous investment. Petroleum engineers make an “estimation of the amount of petroleum that can be recovered” by analyzing the physical underground behavior of water, oil, and gas under high pressure. This engineer cost analysis is instrumental in determining whether oil companies invest in oil recovery.


Drilling for petroleum located far under the earth’s surface can be quite challenging, depending upon robots, machines, and computers. Petroleum engineers must find a way to force the petroleum out of the ground using artificial means – injecting steam, fluids, chemicals, and mud to extract the petroleum up through a pipe. The petroleum engineer will be responsible for overseeing, interpreting, monitoring, and testing drilling processes to determine the best technique to optimize recovery.


Refining the crude oil to break it into smaller component parts is the last stage in the process. The byproducts of petroleum will be used for many transportation purposes, including the generation of electricity. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States generated about 3% of its electricity using petroleum in 1998.

Work Environment

The work environment for the petroleum engineer can be quite diverse including extensive work in office buildings, industrial plants, and laboratories analyzing results. There will also be many visits to the field for research – perhaps to a desert oil field or oil platform in the middle of the ocean. Travel may be extensive depending on where the oil fields are located. Research will include indoor and outdoor analysis, design, modeling, monitoring, and direction of operations. A 40-hour week is usual, but there may be longer hours for special projects or during prime time.

Training, Qualification, Advancement

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Coursework for the basic engineering degree includes a heavy dose of mathematics (algebra, calculus, geometry, and trigonometry) and science (biology, chemistry, geology, and physics). General courses could include English, composition, and geography. Mastering other languages could be helpful because oil is located in many places around the world.


The Engineering Certificate requires satisfaction of standards measuring experience, education, and ethics through examination by organizations like the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), which is the petroleum division of the American Institute of Mining Engineers (AIME). Basic studies include accounting, drilling techniques, economics, geophysics, petroleum geology, and statistics.

With the Associates Degree, the petroleum engineer will learn application of basic engineering principles and techniques, computer applications, equipment testing, field mapping, instrument calibration, laboratory analysis, petroleum extraction, report preparation, sampling methods, and site analysis.

The Bachelors Degree is required for most entry-level positions in the competitive petroleum industry. Coursework includes atmospheric dynamics, atomic structures, banking, chemical composition, drilling tests, evaluation of results, geostatistics, mining and drilling systems, petroleum engineering systems, physical geology, project evaluation, prospecting instruments, refining processes, reservoir petrophysics, storage facilities, transportation systems, well completion, and well performance.

The Masters Degree includes all of the coursework for the Bachelors plus more intense and advanced studies in management – advanced analysis, artificial lift systems, core sampling, drilling wells, formation evaluation, horizonal and multilateral drilling techniques, monitoring reservoirs, oil facilities engineering, prediction of long-term reservoir, reflection seismology, reservoir simulation, and well test data.

The Doctorate in Petroleum Engineering is for skilled practitioners of crude oil discovery, horizontal drilling, and processing with a number of years already spent working in the industry. The Doctorate reflects lifelong learning, it will usually focus on the most current, up-to-date, and complicated elements of petroleum recovery: advanced problem-solving, application of reservoir engineering principles, communication skills, computer applications, decision-making, drilling processing, enhanced oil recovery, evaluation of subsurface geological formations, fluid injection systems, project economics, resource valuation methods, and well system design.

A list of typical courses includes the following:

  • Contaminant Hydrogeology
  • Data Analysis
  • Energy and Mass Transport
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Fundamentals of Compressible Flow
  • Groundwater Flow
  • Near Surface Geophysics
  • Numerical Methods in Fluid Mechanics
  • Petroleum Geology and Exploration
  • Reflection Seismology
  • Rock Physics.

Tools of the Trade

Tools and equipment used by petroleum engineers include the following: cell phones, scanner, video cameras, computers (software for scientific analysis, charting, financial, and project management), drilling equipment, robotics, and underwater submarines.

Points of Interest

The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) is the petroleum division of the American Institute of Mining Engineers (AIME). It is the largest professional society in the world, serving as a global community forum for petroleum professionals. It provides opportunities to enhance technical and professional competence, along with certification. It includes more than 88,000 engineers, scientists, and professors who are involved in conferences, publications, and training.


Professional engineers (PE) must be very good at mathematics and the earth sciences. Since petroleum engineers have the primary task of bringing oil resources up from the underground to the surface, they must be well-versed in how underground rocks and fluids function. They are expected to supervise other oil drilling personnel, so they must demonstrate the following traits and skills: analysis, critical thinking, communication, detail-oriented, judgment, monitoring, problem-solving, reading comprehension, and reasoning.

Petroleum Professional Fields

The petroleum industry is involved in a vast range of activities; thus, an engineer might be involved in any of the following: architectural, business management, chemical manufacturing, coal production, gas extraction, mining support, petroleum development, pipeline transportation, research, and scientific exploration.

Wherever there is oil, there are petroleum engineers trying to find out how to extract it. The largest oil fields are in the following states: Alaska, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas. The foreign countries with the most oil include Brazil, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, North Sea, Russia, and Venezuela.


Besides oil drilling and exploration companies, there are many other potential employers, including consulting firms, environmental groups, government agencies, investment banks, professional associations, research institutes, and universities.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the United States Department of Labor estimations for May 2009, there were more than 25,000 petroleum engineers employed in the United States.


The BLS estimates a mean annual wage of more than $119,000 for May 2009.

Future Job Outlook

The BLS expects a growth rate of 18% for petroleum engineers for the decade from 2008 to 2018. The world’s needs for energy continues to explode exponentially. Modern society remains energy-intensive. This won’t change.


Petroleum engineers are responsible for very expensive drilling projects; based upon their analysis, millions of dollars will be invested in drilling for petroleum. After the engineer has proved his mettle in successfully finding and recovering oil, he will be given more responsibilities, along with opportunities for advancement. If you become an expert in your field, you could start your own company, become a consultant or teach the fundamentals to students in universities.

Related Careers

Here is a list of related careers:

  • Aerospace engineer
  • Completion engineer
  • Drilling engineer
  • Drilling manager
  • Electrical drafter
  • Energy resources engineer
  • Engineer
  • Geological engineer
  • Geologist
  • Geophysicist
  • Geoscientist
  • Industrial engineering technician
  • Marine engineer
  • Materials engineer
  • Mechanical engineering technician
  • Mining engineer
  • Mining safety engineer
  • Natural gas engineer
  • Nuclear engineer
  • Oil drilling engineer
  • Oil exploration engineer
  • Operations engineer
  • Petroleum production engineer
  • Production engineer
  • Reservoir engineer.

Sources of Additional Information

Here are more sources for additional information on petroleum engineers:

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