Career as a Petroleum Engineer

Petroleum engineering is the branch of engineering which deals with the production of hydrocarbons extracted in the form of crude oil or natural gas.

Petroleum engineers deal with the extraction of hydrocarbons from the sub surface reservoirs present in the earth’s soil and determine the economic feasibility of the extraction process. A detailed understanding of the earth’s sediments such as the physical behavior of oil, water and natural gas is essential for the petroleum engineers to determine the exact amount of recoverable volume of the resource from the earth’s crust.

A clear understanding of the disciplines such as geophysics, petroleum geology, drilling, economics, reservoir simulation, reservoir engineering are very essential for the petroleum engineers. Candidates having a background of physics, chemical engineering and mining engineering have usually been recruited as petroleum engineers in the industry.

Role of a Petroleum Engineer

One of the key responsibility area of a petroleum engineer is to design and develop the methods for extracting crude oil or other natural resources from the earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also develop new methods to dig out oil from existing oil wells. The main roles played by petroleum engineers can described as follows:

  • Help in designing equipment’s for the extraction of oil from the earth’s surface in the most economical way
  • Plans for drilling in oil and gas fields is usually made by these professionals
  • Oil well testing and well surveys
  • Use computer controlled drilling or fracturing which connects the larger area of an oil field into a single well
  • Handling the equipments for the use of installation and maintenance of the oil wells
  • Develop methods for injecting water, chemicals, and gases to force out oil from the wells.
  • Petroleum Engineers have to work alongside with geologists to understand the geological formation of the reservoir.
  • They are also involved in the research and development of newer methods for the extraction of oil and gas.

Prerequisites for Becoming a Petroleum Engineer

A bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering is one of the prime requisites for petroleum engineers. However, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical or chemical engineering are also sometimes given preference along with work experience in their respective fields.

Some of the prerequisites for candidates wanting to opt for a petroleum engineering job are as follows:

  • Petroleum engineers must have analytical skills to assess complex problems in drilling and anticipate complications before the oil company pours in money in a drilling project.
  • They must be creative in coming up with new ways to extract oil and gas.
  • Skills in calculus and other advanced topics in math is a must for the petroleum engineers.
  • They must have problem solving skills to identify any problems and complexities in drilling operations.

Top Petroleum Engineer program offering schools in USA

University of Alaska Fairbanks 505 South Chandalar Drive, Fairbanks, AK, 99775-7500
University of Southern California University Park, Los Angeles, CA, 90089
Stanford University , Stanford, CA, 94305
Colorado School of Mines 1500 Illinois St, Golden, CO, 80401
University of Kansas Strong Hall‚ 1450 Jayhawk Blvd‚ Room 230, Lawrence, KS, 66045
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College 156 Thomas Boyd Hall, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803-2750
University of Louisiana at Lafayette 104 University Circle, Lafayette, LA, 70503
Missouri University of Science and Technology 1870 Miner Circle, Rolla, MO, 65409
Montana Tech of the University of Montana 1300 W Park St, Butte, MT, 59701-8997
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology 801 Leroy Place, Socorro, NM, 87801
University of North Dakota 264 Centennial Drive‚ Stop 8193, Grand Forks, ND, 58202-8193
Marietta College Irvine Bldg, Marietta, OH, 45750
University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus 660 Parrington Oval, Norman, OK, 73019-3072
University of Tulsa 800 South Tucker Drive, Tulsa, OK, 74104-3189
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus 201 Old Main, University Park, PA, 16802-1503
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus 4200 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, 15260
University of Houston 212 E. Cullen Building, Houston, TX, 77204-2018
Kilgore College 1100 Broadway, Kilgore, TX, 75662-3299
Texas A & M University-Kingsville 955 University Blvd, Kingsville, TX, 78363
Texas A & M University-College Station 805 Rudder Tower, College Station, TX, 77843-1244
The University of Texas at Austin 2400 Inner Campus Drive, Austin, TX, 78712
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin 4901 E University, Odessa, TX, 79762-0001
Texas Tech University Broadway and University Avenue, Lubbock, TX, 79409-5005
University of Utah 201 Presidents Circle‚ ROOM 203, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112-9008
West Virginia University Stewart Hall‚ 1500 University Avenue, Morgantown, WV, 26506-6201
University of Wyoming Corner of Ninth and Ivinson, Laramie, WY, 82071

Work Environment 

As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Petroleum Engineers hold more than 38,500 jobs as in 2012. A typical petroleum engineer spends most of his time working in offices or research laboratories. However, a major part of their job is spent in drilling sites and often in foreign lands. Petroleum engineers usually work in a rotation of 84 hours when working in drilling sites.

The percentage of petroleum engineers employed in various industries as of 2012 are as listed below:

Categories Percentage
Oil and gas extraction 53
Mining activities 14
Architectural related services 7
Petroleum and coal industries 6
Management of companies and enterprises 6


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a petroleum engineer is $130,280 as in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent making less than $75,030 and the highest 10 percent made more than $187,200.

The top five industries employing petroleum engineers in 2012 and their respective average annual salary are as follows:


Categories Compensation

Oil and gas


Management of companies


Architectural  engineering


Petroleum and coal industry


Mining Activities


Career Outlook

As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment, in the oil and gas industry for petroleum, engineers has been expected to grow at a staggering rate of 26 percent from 2012 to 2022. With the rise in oil prices a good employment opportunity has been created for this particular profession. Rise in global prices of oil has led to the oil companies drilling in deeper waters and also in already existing oil wells through newer extraction methods.

Petroleum Engineering is one of the highest paying occupations in the U.S. Some of the professionals also provide support activities in mining to the large oil companies for their specialized knowledge.

Experienced professionals may also start their own companies.

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