What is a Petroleum Engineer?

Petroleum engineers locate reservoirs of natural gas and crude oil beneath the Earth's surface. They determine if the effort of extracting the product will be worth the time and money to do so. After a decision has been made to go ahead and drill, petroleum engineers find the most cost efficient way of extracting the product.

In a nutshell, petroleum engineers are concerned with four main areas:

  • Finding oil
  • Evaluating whether it has potential
  • Recovering oil
  • Transporting/storing it

What does a Petroleum Engineer do?

A petroleum engineer outside, looking at her computer.

A petroleum engineer helps to keep our world running by providing manufacturers the oil and gas needed to produce more than three hundred products we use everyday (cosmetics, medicines, plastics, textiles, etc). Examples of products that are derived from petroleum are: kerosene, propane, heating oil, diesel fuel, jet fuel, gasoline, plastic, clothing fibres, car tires, and food wrap, just to name a few.

A petroleum engineer will study engineering and geological data to determine the most likely areas that oil can be sourced. They often have to travel to foreign countries and reside there for a time, as a petroleum engineer is involved in nearly all phases of production, from finding oil or natural gas, right through to refining and distributing it.

There are two primary ways of getting oil and gas to the surface — by 'drilling' (creating a tunnel down to the reservoir and creating a system of pipes to bring it up to the surface), and by 'producing' (coaxing reservoirs that are already under pressure to emerge above ground).

A petroleum engineer's role will vary depending on the company worked for, and whether the engineer will be working on land or offshore.

There are several areas petroleum engineers can choose to work in:

  • Reservoir Engineers will conduct studies in order to determine development plans for gas and oil reservoirs, which may include well placement, field development, oil recovery techniques, and proper production and injection rates. They often work in conjunction with the production engineer.
  • Drilling and Completion Engineers will plan, design and implement drilling and completion programs for all types of wells, keeping economics and safety in mind at all times.
  • Production Engineers will evaluate artificial lift methods and develop surface equipment systems to separate water, oil, and gas. They will also analyze and optimize the performance of individual wells.
  • Subsurface Engineers will select equipment that will be the most suitable for the subsurface environment. Once the hardware is selected, the engineer will monitor and adjust the equipment, ensuring the reservoir and well are producing under ideal circumstances.

Are you suited to be a petroleum engineer?

Petroleum engineers have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also conventional, meaning they’re conscientious and conservative.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if petroleum engineer is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Petroleum Engineer like?

Many petroleum engineers travel the world and/or live in foreign countries. Their travels can lead them to the deserts, mountains, high seas, and extremely cold regions of the world in order to find untapped sources of energy for the world's population.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I become a Petroleum Engineer?

Are you a fan of math and science who is fascinated by the world below the surface of the earth? If so, a career as a petroleum engineer may be for you.

Of course, much more than a fascination is required to succeed in the field. And beyond the needed technical knowledge gained via formal education and experience, accomplished petroleum engineers must bring the following soft skills to work every day:

  • Analytical skills
    Petroleum engineers must be able to assess complex plans for drilling and anticipate possible flaws or complications before a company commits money and personnel to a specific project.
  • Creativity
    Every new drill site presents challenges and demands — petroleum engineers ask the necessary questions to ultimately find ways to extract oil and gas.
  • Interpersonal skills
    Petroleum engineers must collaborate with other engineers, scientists, gas workers, and drillers to resolve issues of design, testing, and research. Projects commonly involve expensive equipment and infrastructure. Communicating and working effectively with multi-disciplinary teams is therefore crucial to protecting and preserving firms’ huge capital investments.
  • Problem-solving skills
    Identifying problems in drilling plans is a critical component of the petroleum engineer’s job. Overlooking an issue or a delay in resolving it can jeopardize a project and significantly increase the already high cost of drilling.
  • Math skills
    Engineers in this field use the principles of calculus and other advanced mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting.
  • Computer skills
    Computers play an increasingly important role in this industry. Computers are used to analyze data collected during fieldwork, to automate oilfield production, and to build models simulating reservoir drilling methods. In fact, petroleum companies own many of the supercomputers currently in use around the world.

Anyone who considers a career in petroleum engineering should be prepared for continuous learning. While many classroom-based engineering principles remain the same, technology and methods are always shifting, and the increasing issue of global climate change is inescapably intruding upon the profession, forcing industries to adapt.

Finally, individuals looking to enter this profession need to consider three other demands of the job:

  • They must be willing to work both indoors and outdoors.
  • They must be prepared to sometimes travel for long periods of time to supervise drilling operations abroad.
  • They must accept the degree of risk associated with exposure to drilling fluids and other chemicals, hazardous noise levels, and working in confined spaces.

Are Petroleum Engineers happy?

Petroleum engineers rank among the least happy careers. Overall they rank in the 25th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.

This low happiness quotient may be influenced by the potential dangers and risks connected with the occupation. The ranking could also be related to the fact that petroleum engineers may periodically face extended periods of unemployment, due to industry slowdowns.

What are Petroleum Engineers like?

Based on our pool of users, petroleum engineers tend to be predominately enterprising people. They are comfortable with making recommendations for multi-million dollar projects and with their overall high level of responsibility. They commonly take pride in the knowledge that without oil and gas, first world countries would not exist and third world countries could not accelerate their development. Petroleum engineers feel that in many ways they power the world.

How long does it take to become a Petroleum Engineer?

Becoming an accomplished petroleum engineer starts with laying a strong foundation in high school, progresses with pursuing an accredited university program, and advances with a career-long commitment to the profession.

It generally takes four years to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering. Some aspiring engineers will study for an additional year to earn a joint bachelor’s/master’s degree offered by some universities.

Petroleum Engineers are also known as:
Reservoir Engineer Drilling Engineer Subsurface Engineer Completion Engineer Petroleum Production Engineer Oil & Gas Engineer