CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a petroleum engineer.
Is becoming a petroleum engineer right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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A high school program rich in science and math is the vital early foundation of a career in petroleum engineering. In addition to courses in these directly related subject areas, foreign language study is recommended in view of the international nature of the occupation.
A very high percentage of employers require that job candidates possess a Bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering, or chemical engineering. It is important to enroll in an engineering program that is approved by the Accreditation Board of Engineering (ABET).
Graduate Degree (optional)
While a Bachelor’s degree is viewed as the most valuable and versatile credential in the field of petroleum engineering, students who pursue a related Master’s or Ph.D. will, following experience in the field, be considered prime candidates for management roles, university faculty appointments, or advanced research positions.
Before graduates can apply for an engineering license, they must have a minimum of four years of relevant work experience. To earn the Engineer in Training (EIT) or Engineer Intern (EI) designation, candidates must first pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Passing the second exam, Principles and Practice of Engineering, results in the Professional Engineer (PE) license. Some states stipulate that engineers fulfill continuing education requisites to retain their license.
All states require independent or self-employed engineers to be licensed. A license may be optional for engineers working under a licensed engineer.
Certification is not mandatory, but is available through the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). The SPE establishes standards for competency and professional conduct; produces seminars and networking events; and develops career tools for oil and gas professionals worldwide. To become certified, petroleum engineers must be members of the Society, possess an undergraduate engineering degree, have at least four years of work experience, and pass an exam. To maintain certification, members must annually complete sixteen hours of professional development education.
The SPE credential may improve job candidates’ marketability and advancement opportunities and help them negotiate higher salaries.
Ongoing Professional Development
The National Society of Professional Engineers is the authority on licensing, ethics, and practice in the engineering profession. It hosts a job board, provides salary information, offers a mentoring program, and provides resume writing services. It also organizes six interest groups for construction, government, higher education, industry, private practice, and young engineers.
The Society of Petroleum Evaluation Engineers is dedicated to the promotion of professional growth for petroleum engineers.
The American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers is a professional body representing 200,000 members.
Recommended career resources for petroleum engineers include the following books and blogs.
The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power
by Daniel Yergin
Referred to as the best history of oil ever written, this is a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the global pursuit of oil, money, and power
Fundamentals of Oil & Gas Accounting
by Rebecca A. Gallun
This valuable resource presents the special terminology, complexity, and myriad of issues associated with the oil and gas industry.
Petroleum Refining in Nontechnical Language
by William L. Leffler
Analogies, easy-to-understand graphs, formulas, and illustrations combine to create an overview of fundamental refining topics.
Penn Energy provides timely, in-depth resources on energy topics.
Drillinginfo Blog enables the world to make smarter oil and gas decisions.
Fuel Fix is considered a daily must-read for energy business news and analysis.
Energy In Depth is a research, education, public outreach campaign run by the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
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 that 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. They 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.
Steps to becoming 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.
How long does it take to become a Petroleum Engineer?
It generally takes four years to complete a Bachelor’s degree required to enter the petroleum engineering field. Some aspiring engineers will study for an additional year to earn a joint Bachelor’s/Master’s degree offered by some schools.
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.
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.
How to become a Petroleum Engineer
The first recommendation to students interested in pursuing a career in petroleum engineering is to make the most of high school math and science courses. A focus on algebra, trigonometry, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science will prepare prospective engineers for the challenges of higher-level study in university. From an extracurricular standpoint, register for geology classes or field trips with a natural history museum; join an engineering club; consider entering engineering competitions, such as those offered by the Technology Student Association.
Most jobs in the field require a Bachelor’s degree. Engineering programs typically take four years to complete and include classroom, laboratory, and field studies in engineering principles, geology, and thermodynamics. Classes in communication, composition, and economics are also recommended, as this occupation invariably involves working as part of a team, writing reports, and drafting proposals.
While some schools offer a Bachelor’s in petroleum engineering, most degree programs specific to the field are at the Master’s level. Some colleges and universities offer a five-year program in chemical or mechanical engineering that leads to both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. Others have a six-year program that also incorporates work experience. Master’s level curricula comprise specialized classes like well drilling, reservoir fluids, fluid flow, petroleum production, and reservoir analysis. In addition, they often include cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their studies.
In their first job, petroleum engineers may be assigned to an office position for orientation before being sent out for field experience. Some entry-level experiences include well-work operations, facilities production, surveillance activities, or even drilling. Potential employers of these engineers are oil companies, extraction equipment manufacturers, banks, government agencies, universities and other educational institutions, and fuel consultancies for industry and government. Accomplished petroleum engineers may choose to apply their expertise in an independent consultant role, working with a variety of companies and agencies.