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 pursuing 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.
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.