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How to Become a Petroleum Engineer

If you have exceptional mathematical, and problem-solving skills, you’re an analytical thinker, and you have great interpersonal skills, a career as a petroleum engineer might be the perfect fit for you.

Petroleum engineers are responsible for designing equipment and systems that are used to extract oil and gas for oil-based fuels and chemical compounds used in a variety of products. They develop drill equipment for onshore and offshore activities and may assess costs and risks based on surveys and testing of oil and gas wells. Interpersonal skills are essential as they work closely with geoscientists and other specialists to understand the rock formations surrounding oil and gas deposits. High-level research skills are also required to find new ways to extract as much oil and gas as possible from underground reserves.

Solid knowledge of engineering, chemistry, mathematics, and geology is essential to excel as a petroleum engineer.  Petroleum engineers must be able to design cost-effective and efficient systems. They should be able to accurately analyze and interpret geological data using surveys and testing. Petroleum engineers need to be physically fit and able to work outside in various weather conditions and remote locations.

Sample job description

Do you love designing and supervising hands-on projects? Do you like creating machines that do their jobs with maximum efficiency while protecting the surrounding environment? If so, you might be the perfect fit for our company. Petroleum engineers use their mastery of mathematics, engineering, and geology to design and implement extraction methods for petroleum. They locate and devise methods of extraction and develop cost-efficient, effective methods of recovery while developing new ways to do so. They generally have strong mathematical, analytical, and creative problem-solving skills. Additionally, they’ll be well versed in the best practices of extraction techniques and understand how to analyze, interpret, and monitor geological formations to assess risks and methods.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Design equipment for extracting oil and gas from onshore and offshore reserves deep underground
  • Create plans for drilling in oil and gas fields, and then recovering the oil and gas
  • Develop ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve to force out more oil or gas
  • Ensure oilfield equipment is installed, operated, and maintained properly
  • Evaluate the production of wells through surveys, testing, and analysis

Education and experience

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably with a major in petroleum engineering. Also acceptable are job candidates with mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering degrees. Some employers prefer applicants with a master’s degree or Ph.D. for certain positions.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Analytical, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills
  • Advanced mathematics skills
  • Teamwork and interpersonal communication skills
  • Strong technical writing ability
  • Experience with database and spreadsheet software
  • Demonstrated expertise in solving highly technical problems
  • Working knowledge of geology or thermodynamics

Preferred qualifications

  • Master’s degree in engineering, mathematics, or related field
  • Strong written communication skills
  • 3+ years of experience working in the petroleum space

Typical work environment

These engineers will spend a significant amount of time seated at a computer working with software. You should anticipate many hours seated and working, or in an office setting for meetings.

They may be required to visit and test sites for extraction potential, as well as monitor and supervise current extraction sites. These are often loud and caustic locations with potentially dangerous equipment. Long hours of commuting and meetings at various locations can be expected as well.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a petroleum engineer are from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, many petroleum engineers work longer hours to hit project deadlines or troubleshoot production issues.

Available certifications

As petroleum engineers work in a variety of industries, there are many institutions that offer certifications, including:

  • Registered Landman. The American Association of Professional Landmen is a basic certification demonstrating an understanding of the fundamentals of the land industry, as well as a commitment to continuing the holder’s education. This will show your desire in the chosen career, as well as teach basic underlying skills necessary to perform the job.
  • Petroleum Engineer. The Society of Petroleum Engineers offers this certification program to drive recognition and establish high personal standards. You’ll need 2 or more years of experience in the field, as well as at least 2 years of education in order to be qualified to take the exam. Additionally, you’ll need to renew this certification every year.
  • Certified Energy Procurement Professional. The Association of Energy Engineers offers the CEP as a special designation to petroleum professionals who have demonstrated a high aptitude for learning, and a firm understanding of the knowledge, experience, and ethics needed for all activities related to the purchase, sale, and marketing of electricity and natural gas.

Career path

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably with a major in petroleum engineering. Also acceptable are job candidates with mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering degrees. Some employers prefer applicants with a master’s degree or Ph.D. for certain positions. Many companies also require a Professional Engineer (PE) license, which requires a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, on-the-job experience, and a passing score on the Principles and Practice of Engineering Examination. Successful petroleum engineers can advance to overseeing larger-scale drilling and extraction projects and receive greater independence to design and evaluate projects and processes.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 17-2171

2020 Employment28,500
Projected Employment in 203030,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 8% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift2,200 increase

According to the professional services firm Deloitte, one key trend in the petroleum engineering field is the decreasing global demand for oil. One reason for that is the push in some countries to move away from dependence on fossil fuels. Another is that petroleum production has increased in several countries, leading to a more secure supply of oil.

Another trend in the industry is the expectation of increased efficiency from oil and gas investors. Despite the global economic slowdown and another slowdown in production from oil and gas wells, investors are looking to petroleum companies to find new ways to save costs. They say investors could be hesitant to spend more money in the oil and gas industry until they see it.