What You'll Do
By Sarah Stevenson
Petroleum engineering professionals are responsible for the discovery, extraction, and refinement of natural oil and gas resources. Reserves of crude oil and natural gas found throughout the world are critical not only to the energy industry—providing fuel for transportation and energy for lighting and heat—but also in the manufacture of a plethora of industrial and consumer products, from plastics to cosmetics.
Petroleum engineers work with geologists and other scientists to locate oil and gas resources and determine the safest, most effective methods and equipment for extracting those resources. They also develop new technologies such as computer-controlled drilling to increase the amount of resources recovered.
Because the oil and gas energy industries are truly global in scale, petroleum engineers have a lot of international job opportunities. Essentially, however, they work wherever the oil and gas industries are located, either overseas in oil-producing nations or in states in the U.S. with large natural energy reserves. Petroleum engineers may work in the field as drilling or reservoir engineers, or they can be managers, teachers or consultants. Though of course major oil and gas companies employ a lot of petroleum engineers, opportunities are available in other industries, such as mining and petroleum product manufacturing.
The Future of Petroleum Engineering
As long as the demand for energy remains high, petroleum engineers will be needed to locate new sources of oil and gas and to develop more effective methods of extracting and processing existing resources. In addition, a large number of current petroleum engineers are expected to retire over the next 10 years, which means that many new scientists and engineers will be needed.
Schools & Degrees
- Associate's Degree in Petroleum Engineering: Community colleges as well as more specialized engineering or mining schools may offer 2-year associate's degrees in petroleum engineering technology or pre-engineering. The former qualifies you for technician work in the field, while the latter prepares you to transfer to a 4-year program.
- Bachelor's Degree in Petroleum Engineering: Typically, a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in petroleum engineering begins with general education, preparatory math and science, and introductory petroleum engineering courses. The final two years of the program involve more specialized courses, such as geology or well drilling.
- Master's and Doctoral Degrees in Petroleum Engineering: Master of Science, Master of Engineering (MEng) or PhD degrees in petroleum engineering usually focus on more specialized subjects, such as economic evaluation or production system design. Graduate degree holders enter the field with more advanced knowledge and leadership skills.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for petroleum engineers is $128,230. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.