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Petroleum Engineer Job Description, Career as a Petroleum Engineer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College

Salary: Median—$88,500 per year

Employment Outlook: Varies—see profile

Definition and Nature of the Work

Petroleum engineers design and supervise the process of getting oil and natural gas out of the ground and into storage tanks. Most of these engineers work for oil companies, but some work for firms that sell equipment and tools to oil companies. Others teach in colleges and universities or serve as consultants to industry and government.

When a site for a well is selected, petroleum engineers decide how to drill. They choose equipment and supervise workers who install and operate it. If oil or gas is found, petroleum engineers test samples of the oil-bearing rock layers. Then they test the reservoir where the oil or gas is located to see whether the oil or gas will flow by itself or whether it must be forced from the ground. The results of these tests help petroleum engineers choose the best methods and equipment for the job.

Petroleum engineers must bring the oil or gas to the surface as cheaply and safely as possible. Because oil and salt water are often found together, the engineers must also find ways of returning the salt water to the ground. If the salt water is spilled, it can damage crops and plants. When they are involved with offshore drilling, petroleum engineers try to prevent costly spills that waste oil and pollute water and shorelines. They also supervise the early stages of natural gas processing.

Because petroleum engineers know what it costs to produce oil and gas, some are employed by banks that lend money to oil companies. Others work for government agencies that regulate oil production. Experienced petroleum engineers help with research aimed at finding ways to recover a greater percentage of the oil and natural gas that exists in petroleum reservoirs.

Petroleum engineers discuss a drilling concern near a drilling rig platform. (© Charles E. Rotkin/Corbis.)

Education and Training Requirements

The minimum requirement of education to become a petroleum engineer is a bachelor's degree. In some schools students can earn a degree in petroleum engineering. Other schools offer courses in the field. A degree in geology, geophysics, mining, or civil or mechanical engineering, plus course work in petroleum engineering, is good preparation. A master's or doctoral degree is usually necessary for a position in research or teaching.

Many large companies have formal training programs for beginners. Recent graduates generally start as assistants to experienced engineers. Engineers whose work affects public health and safety must be licensed in their state. Requirements for licensing generally include a degree in engineering, several years of work experience in the engineering field, and a passing grade on a test.

Getting the Job

College placement offices may be able to help prospective petroleum engineers get a job. Some companies send recruiters to campuses to find qualified engineers. Candidates can also apply directly to companies, and they should check the want ads in professional journals and magazines.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced engineers can rise to top managerial positions in their company. Some start their own consulting firms.

While a decline in employment for petroleum engineers is expected, the number of graduates is about equal to the number of job openings, resulting in favorable opportunities. Oil and gas prices will also affect employment. When oil prices are high, petroleum engineers will be hired to seek oil and gas reservoirs. When prices are low, however, it is more economical to purchase oil and gas from other countries.

Working Conditions

Petroleum engineers work in the United States, on offshore rigs, and in foreign countries. Engineers involved in production can expect to work irregular hours, because most wells run day and night. Many jobs in oil production require engineers to move every few years.

Where to Go for More Information

American Association of Petroleum Geologists
P.O. Box 979
Tulsa, OK 74101-0979
(800) 364-2274
http://www.aapg.org

American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers
P.O. Box 270728
Littleton, CO 80127-0013
(303) 948-4255
http://www.aimeny.org

Society of Petroleum Engineers
P.O. Box 833836
Richardson, TX 75080-3836
(972) 952-9393
http://www.spe.org

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary depending on education and experience. The average starting salary for a petroleum engineer with a bachelor's degree is $61,516 per year. The median income for a petroleum engineer is $88,500 per year. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, insurance, and pensions.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesAgribusiness, Environment, and Natural Resources