What is a Petroleum Engineering Degree?

The field of petroleum engineering is concerned with oil and natural gas exploration, extraction, and production. Those that complete a petroleum engineering degree will be highly sought out by oil companies, as graduates have solid backgrounds in both math and science.

Degree programs in the field prepare students with the skills they need to work as one of four kinds of petroleum engineers:

  • Reservoir engineers determine how much oil and/or gas can be extracted from a well. They use computer simulations to identify risks and gauge production levels.
  • Drilling engineers design the drilling and casing (piping placement) plan for wells.
  • Completions engineers are in charge of the well after it has been drilled and cased. They manage the hydraulic fracturing design and execution.
  • Production engineers take over the well after it is fracked by completions engineers.

The petroleum engineering curriculum includes applied mathematics, computer technologies, geology, thermodynamics, and environmental and safety issues.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering – Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, petroleum engineering students take courses in mathematics, physics, geology, and chemistry, as well as the principles of engineering analysis, design, and management.

Here are some samples of bachelor’s program courses:

  • Reservoir Rock Properties
  • Reservoir Fluid Properties
  • Fundamentals of Reservoir Engineering
  • Fundamentals of Drilling Engineering
  • Fundamentals of Production Engineering
  • Introduction to Drilling Systems and Drilling Fluids
  • Petroleum Geology
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Petroleum Engineering and the Environment
  • Programming for Engineers
  • Geophysics
  • Calculus
  • General Chemistry

In addition to working directly in the petroleum industry, holders of a bachelor’s degree in the field find employment in areas like underground waste management and disposal and pollution cleanup.

Master’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering – Two Year Duration
Graduates with a Master’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering typically work in senior roles in the industry. In addition to conducting research for their thesis, master’s students take core courses like the following:

  • Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics
  • Borehole Geophysics
  • Oil and Gas Production
  • Oil and Gas Technology
  • Applied Mathematics and Advanced Modelling
  • Statistics
  • Surface Water Quality
  • Groundwater Quality
  • Computational Fluid Dynamics
  • Advanced Chemistry for Engineers

Doctoral Degree in Petroleum Engineering – Four to Six Year Duration
Doctoral programs in petroleum engineering are targeted at individuals who intend to teach the discipline or conduct advanced research in the field. Therefore, the typical curriculum at this level is dedicated to supervised research in each student’s area or areas of specialization. Students must pass a qualifying exam, a candidacy exam, and a final exam, as well as complete a dissertation based on original research.

Research areas may include:

  • Application of Artificial Intelligence
  • Drilling and Completion
  • Reservoir Modelling and Simulation
  • Secondary Recovery of Oil by Water Flooding

Degrees Similar to Petroleum Engineering

Biochemistry degree programs teach the chemical processes that occur in living matter. In other words, a biochemistry major learns about life’s molecular basis and the substances like proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and the nucleic acids that make up the genetic code.

Chemical Engineering
This degree field is focused on how the chemical, biochemical, and physical properties of substances can be changed to turn them into something else. Examples of this work are making plastic from oil, developing synthetic fibers for clothing, identifying ways to mass-produce drugs, and finding ways to solve environmental problems.

Geology, also known as geoscience and Earth science, is the study of the Earth. Students of the discipline learn about the processes that act upon the Earth, such as floods, landslides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions; the materials of which the Earth is made, such as water, oil, metals, and rocks; and the history, evolution, and past climates of the Earth.

Materials Science and Engineering
Materials engineering involves creating, testing, and improving all kinds of materials that can be used to make different products. Material engineers work with glass, plastic, ceramics, metal and other materials.

Nuclear Engineering
Students of nuclear engineering learn how energy released from nuclear reactions can be used in power plants, medical diagnostic equipment, and other industries. Nuclear engineering courses cover nuclear reactor theory, design, safety, and risks.

Skills You’ll Learn

  • Communication and collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • IT skills
  • Mathematics and analysis
  • Physical fitness
  • Technical savvy

What Can You Do with a Petroleum Engineering Degree?

More than half of petroleum engineering graduates work directly in the oil and gas extraction field. It is also important to note that this is a field that takes engineers all over the world. Common employers include:

  • Energy / oil companies
  • Engineering consulting firms
  • Offshore drilling companies
  • National / international research laboratories
  • Industry-sponsored research entities
  • University faculties (professors and researchers)


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