A petroleum engineer is a subset of the engineering career, focused upon the exploration for and extraction of hydrocarbons (crude oil or natural gas). Petroleum engineers often work closely with geologists to determine where accessible reservoirs of hydrocarbons are located, as well as the best method for safe removal.
The growth outlook for petroleum engineers in the United States is bleak, as most of the remaining hydrocarbon deposits are difficult to extract in some way. However, for petroleum engineers willing to travel, there is expected to be a moderate increase in the number of employment opportunities. This will likely be most true in developing nations where hydrocarbon deposits have yet to be fully mapped. Most petroleum companies maintain offices around the world, with petroleum engineers being shuffled to areas of the greatest need.
Petroleum Engineer Job Responsibilities
Petroleum engineers will determine the most likely locations of hydrocarbon reservoirs, and map the extent of the field. Their reports to the company will include their recommendations for drilling methods, the amount of hydrocarbons contained, and drilling simulation data.
A petroleum engineer will also design and implement drilling protocols, specialized extraction equipment, and simulate hydrocarbon extraction. Currently, drilling and other extraction methods can only remove a fraction of hydrocarbon reservoirs at best. New ideas are constantly needed to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of hydrocarbon removal.
Petroleum Engineer Training and Education Requirements
A bachelor’s degree is the typical requirement for most petroleum engineering jobs. Some schools offer petroleum engineering degrees, while others provide general engineering degrees with a focus on compatible disciplines. For jobs involving research or teaching, a master’s level degree or Ph.D. is almost always required. A minor, or a second degree in related fields such as geology, geophysics, or mining will be extremely helpful.
A background in computer science is important as well. Most drilling simulations will be done through specialized software. Also, designing new drilling equipment will be worked on through a computer.
A petroleum engineer will almost always be working in an interdisciplinary team of geologists, drilling engineers and others. Interpersonal communication will be key. Being able to communicate technical information in an understandable manner can be helpful. Patience is valuable, given that a petroleum engineer may spend years investigating a single hydrocarbon deposit. They must be willing to accept dirty or oily environments in the case of workplace accidents.
Most universities will not offer a degree in petroleum engineering. Those that do are typically located in or near hydrocarbon production regions of the country (such as California, Oklahoma, and Texas).
Following graduation, for petroleum engineering involving health and public safety, a petroleum engineer must receive a license from the state of employment. A license will involve a degree in engineering, a few years of experience, and a test to conclude the licensing process.
Most petroleum companies will provide a training program after hiring. Some petroleum training programs may substitute for an advanced degree in certain companies. A more experienced petroleum engineer will almost always serve to mentor the new employee due to the highly technical nature of the work. After years of experience, consulting can be an option for a petroleum engineer with knowledge about a specific region of the world.
A petroleum engineer will often work long hours during a day. They must be willing to travel frequently to potentially uncomfortable regions.
Petroleum Engineer Salary and Wages
The median annual earnings for a petroleum engineer in May of 2009 were $119,960. Candidates with exceptional region-specific knowledge or private consultants earned more.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported in 2003 that petroleum engineers with a bachelor’s degree received salary offers averaging $55,987 per year. While petroleum engineering has historically enjoyed high compensation for the engineering field, low oil and gas prices has driven petroleum engineering wages down at times.
Petroleum Engineer Certifications
For petroleum engineers working for the state or federal government, a license for the state of employment will be required.
The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) offers the Petroleum Engineering Certification, a four step process to judge competency. An undergraduate engineering or field-related science degree is the first requirement to become certified. A period of experience and training within the petroleum engineering field is also required (typically for a period of four years). Next, an examination will test the petroleum engineer’s competency with a multi-series test. Lastly, references from peers will be submitted. An annual renewal fee is charged for each year following the passing of the test.
Petroleum Engineer Professional Associations
The SPE is the foremost authority for petroleum engineers. Forerunners of the SPE were begun in 1913, following the discovery of the Spindletop reservoir in 1901. The SPE received its current name in 1957. Today, the SPE counts more than 92,000 members.
The SPE stores member research and technical papers, making them available online for convenience. Over 85,000 documents are able to be viewed by members. The SPE also holds documents from related fields, with organizations such as the Society of Underwater Technology (SUT) and American Rock Mechanics Association (ARMA) supplying their own information for perusal.