Petroleum Engineering Career Path

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Petroleum Engineering Career Path

A career in petroleum engineering can be both rewarding and challenging. Petroleum engineers are responsible for finding and developing oil and gas reserves, so they must have a strong understanding of the geological principles involved in exploration and production. Additionally, petroleum engineers must design drilling programs, oversee drilling operations, and manage field development projects. This blog post will explore the career path of petroleum engineers, including education requirements, degree options, and professional development resources.

1. What Is Petroleum Engineering?

Petroleum engineering is a branch of geophysics and focuses on all aspects related to oil and gas exploration, extraction, production, distribution, and consumption. Petroleum engineers design the equipment used in these processes, develop methods for extracting resources from deposits below the Earth’s surface, and locate new petroleum sources.

These professionals typically specialize in either drilling engineering, reservoir engineering, or production engineering. Drilling engineers design and supervise drilling operations at oil and gas wells to ensure a safe and successful project. Reservoir engineers study the physical properties of underground reservoirs of oil and natural gas to develop extraction methods. Finally, petroleum engineers involved in production engineering focus on maximizing the flow from wells and minimizing production costs.

2. What Are Petroleum Engineers’ Day-to-Day Responsibilities?

Petroleum engineering is a field that requires both scientific and business knowledge. Petroleum engineers need to understand relevant scientific principles, particularly the geological details related to drilling and production.

In many cases, petroleum engineering teams will be involved in multi-disciplined projects with members from various backgrounds. This can include geologists, geophysicists, computer scientists, or physicists, to name just a few.

As production engineers have day-to-day interactions with managers and other organization members, they need to be comfortable presenting their findings in clear business terms. If you are considering pursuing a petroleum engineering career path, you should enjoy working with numbers and technology, as well as with people.

3. What Are the Education Requirements for Petroleum Engineers?

In the United States, a bachelor’s degree is typically required for entry-level petroleum engineering positions. Many employers prefer candidates with a degree in petroleum engineering or a related field such as geology or geophysics.

Some employers may prefer graduate degrees, and there are options available to those who want to study petroleum engineering at the graduate level. An advanced degree may also be necessary for research, teaching, or supervisory roles within the petroleum engineering industry.

There are several different paths one can take to obtain an advanced degree in petroleum engineering. A Master of Engineering (M.E.) is a two-year program that usually requires the completion of 30 credits over approximately six semesters. A Master of Science (M.S.) program, which typically takes one or two years to complete, requires the completion of 18-24 credits. Finally, a doctoral degree in petroleum engineering is considered the highest academic credential for teaching at universities and working as an industry researcher.

A Ph.D. degree usually takes about five years of full-time study and requires the completion of a thesis or dissertation. It usually includes some combination of 60 credits of coursework, research, and seminars.

4. What Are Petroleum Engineers’ Salary Options?

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2014, the average annual salary for petroleum engineers was $128,230 with a mean hourly wage of $64.60.

Nearly half, or 47 percent, of petroleum engineers, are employed by oil and gas extraction companies. Within this industry, the BLS states that the median annual salary for entry-level professionals is $90,000, while more experienced workers earn an average of $144,200 per year.

According to the BLS, petroleum engineers holding a Ph.D. degree tend to earn more than those with bachelor’s degrees.

The BLS also reports that petroleum engineers working in research and development typically fall into the $125,000 – $154,000 range, while those employed at colleges, universities, and professional schools average about $111,000 per year.

Entry-level professionals in the field can expect to earn salaries comparable to those of other engineering disciplines. However, they should note that petroleum engineering is one of the highest-paying entry-level engineering professions and may provide more opportunities for advancement than other fields.

5. What Does a Typical Day Look Like for a Petroleum Engineer?

Petroleum engineers may have multiple tasks to complete on any given day. However, Dr. Stephanie J. Bird, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, states that typical duties might include:

Evaluating production operations and suggesting operational improvements – Assessing petroleum reservoir behavior using computer programs or mathematical models – Assisting in well completions and work overs – Performing engineering studies related to the economic viability of a project – Evaluating oil and gas fields to determine potential locations for new wells and equipment

Conducting laboratory tests on fluids and rock samples – Creating maps and charts of petroleum reservoirs

6. What Are Some of the Challenges Faced by Petroleum Engineers?

Bird states that petroleum engineers also face challenges in the workplace, including:

  • Occupational hazards associated with working around heavy equipment, explosives, and hazardous substances
  • Long periods away from home when traveling to remote locations for work purposes
  • Longer-term projects can take years before yielding results
  • Conflicts with other departments, companies, or government entities
  • Working in extreme environmental conditions (e.g., high temperatures, high humidity)
  • Meeting energy demands, such as providing transportation fuel and heating – Limitations of known technologies

The petroleum industry is one of the most challenging engineering fields. Petroleum engineers work long hours, often in remote locations, and must solve unforeseen problems quickly. They also travel frequently and typically have a lot of responsibility, even entry-level.

7. What Are Some of the Benefits of Being a Petroleum Engineer?

According to the BLS, petroleum engineers also enjoy benefits including:

  • Opportunities for advancement
  • High levels of responsibility and autonomy
  • Potential to influence the design of new processes or systems
  • Responsibility for planning daily activities, leading project teams, and assigning tasks to other workers
  • Ability to work on teams with geologists, chemists, mathematicians, and engineers

As long as the demand for oil remains high, petroleum engineers will continue to play a vital role in the world energy market. Professionals who can help produce and refine this valuable resource will always be at the forefront of the industry.

8. What Is the Job Outlook for Petroleum Engineering?

The BLS states that oil and gas extraction companies employ 17 percent of all petroleum engineers and will likely continue to be the largest employer of petroleum engineers over the next decade.

According to the BLS, opportunities for petroleum engineers should be good through 2020, with an expected growth rate of 7 percent. Additionally, projected employment levels should increase between 19 and 26 percent by 2026.

Petroleum engineers typically work in one of three roles:

  • Petroleum engineers in training typically work in entry-level roles and have less responsibility
  • Machine operators typically work in the field, controlling various aspects of oil well production
  • Engineers who work for consulting firms provide technical expertise to a variety of clients

The industry has a relatively low turnover rate, which means that there are plenty of opportunities available to job seekers with an undergraduate degree in petroleum engineering.

9. What Kind of Company Employs Petroleum Engineers?

The type of company that employs petroleum engineers varies widely. According to the BLS,

  • 23 percent work for oil and gas extraction companies
  • 18 percent work for pipeline transportation companies
  • 15 percent work in all other basic organic chemical manufacturing
  • 7 percent work in support activities for mining 

Some petroleum engineers also work as consultants who provide their expertise to various companies. Some petroleum engineers also teach at colleges and universities.

10. What Skills Should Budding Petroleum Engineers Have?

Budding petroleum engineers should be interested in math and science with solid problem-solving skills. They should possess a strong work ethic and be team players. Petroleum engineers should also have excellent written and verbal communication skills and the ability to communicate effectively with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds.

In addition to an undergraduate degree, petroleum engineers typically need a graduate-level degree in engineering or applied science. Companies may prefer candidates who have taken advanced math and science classes and practical work experience.

11. What Jobs Can You Do with Petroleum Engineering?

The job functions of petroleum engineers vary depending on their industry. Some petroleum engineers are involved in designing methods to extract oil or gas from wells, while others may help identify new reservoirs for extraction.

Some other potential career options include:

  • Reservoir engineer
  • Well, log analyst
  • Geophysical data technician
  • Production operator
  • Well services rig worker
  • Log analyst
  • Reservoir development engineer
  • Completions engineer

12. Best Colleges to Study Petroleum Engineer

Some of the best colleges to study petroleum-related topics include:

Texas A&M University — College Station, TX

Located in Texas and ranked as one of the best colleges to study petroleum engineering. This university is known for its beautiful campus, high-quality research, and excellent student interest in studying petroleum-related topics such as petroleum engineering.

Purdue University — West Lafayette, IN

Ranked number one in the nation for graduate employment, this university has one of the best petroleum engineering departments. The main focus of this college is to recruit top-notch faculty members and create a positive learning environment that prepares students for success after graduation.

The University of Texas at Austin — Austin, TX

This is ranked as one of the top schools to study petroleum engineering due to the high number of faculty members considered leaders in their field. Three chairs of the petroleum engineering department are members of the National Academy of Engineering.

University of Oklahoma — Norman, OK

This university is ranked as one of the best colleges to study petroleum engineering because most graduates from this school pursue a career in the industry. Many students are recruited to work for petroleum companies after graduating from this school, known for having one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation.

13. Top Recruiting Companies for a Petroleum Engineer

Some of the top recruiting companies for a petroleum engineer include:

ExxonMobil- Irving, TX

This is one of the leading companies in the oil and gas industry. You must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in engineering, physical science, or mathematics to work for this company. You must also have at least four years of full-time experience as a professional engineer to qualify for this position.

Shell Oil Company- Houston, TX

This company needs a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in engineering focusing on petroleum engineering. You must also have at least six years of experience as a professional engineer to be eligible for employment at this company.

Chevron Corporation- San Ramon, CA

To work for Chevron, you must have a degree in engineering from an accredited college or university. The company’s website provides a list of the fields considered acceptable degrees within this field. You must also have at least six years of work experience as a petroleum engineer to be eligible for employment with this company.

ConocoPhillips- Houston, TX

To be eligible for employment with this company, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in engineering. You must also have at least four years of professional engineering experience to apply for this position.

Chevron Corporation- San Ramon, CA

This is an international oil and gas company that looks for experienced engineering candidates with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering. You must also have at least four years of professional engineering experience before applying for this position.

14. Online Courses to Study Petroleum Engineering

Of course, aspiring petroleum engineers can always go online to get college-level instruction on the subject. Here are some of the most popular courses available for this branch of engineering:

Introduction to Petroleum Engineering by Coursera

 This free course provides a comprehensive introduction to the field of petroleum engineering. You’ll learn about topics such as resource recovery, production operations, and reservoir engineering.

Introductory Petroleum

This course also provides an introduction to petroleum engineering. You’ll study topics such as the nature of crude oil, production engineering, and oil fields.

Petroleum Engineering by edX

In this course, you’ll learn all about the duties of a professional petroleum engineer. The instructors for this course will detail how students can prepare

Apply Now

Petroleum refining demystified – Oil & Gas industry by Udemy- This online course is designed to understand the oil and gas industry better. You’ll learn about topics such as reservoir engineering, refining, and petrochemicals in this three-hour program.

Apply Now

Introduction to Petroleum Engineering by Iversity

 This free course is another comprehensive introduction to the field of petroleum engineering. You’ll learn how oil and gas are found and extracted from the Earth in this online program.

Apply Now


Petroleum engineering is a challenging and rewarding field. If you’re considering entering this profession, be sure to do your research so that you can find the right program for you. Once you have completed your education, it will be essential to get as much experience as possible to prepare yourself for a successful career. We wish you the best of luck on your journey to becoming a petroleum engineer!

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