What Does a Petroleum Engineer Do? (And How To Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An employee in a hard hat works at an oil refinery.

Petroleum engineers analyze, design and implement extraction methods to recover petroleum products from underground deposits. Their duties include analyzing the potential costs of drilling and developing efficient techniques to extract crude materials. Knowing more about their job duties, work environment and qualifications can help you determine whether you want to become a petroleum engineer.

In this article, we explain what a petroleum engineer does, describe their work environment, outline the steps to become one and provide their average salary and job outlook to help you explore this career path.


What is a petroleum engineer?

A petroleum engineer designs and develops systems to extract oil and gas from beneath the Earth's surface. They also analyze the economic value of existing gas or oil wells and determine cost-efficient ways to extract materials. Petroleum engineers work closely with geologists, geoscientists and other experts to determine appropriate drilling methods to extract oil and gas safely.

Related: What Is Petroleum Engineering? Definition, Branches and Requirements


What does a petroleum engineer do?

Petroleum engineers are responsible for designing and improving petroleum extraction and treatment facilities. They facilitate the construction of extraction devices and drilling activities. These engineers use current technologies to enhance industry techniques, and they often develop methods to improve the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction.

The exact duties of a petroleum engineer can vary based on their employer and specialty. Some common specializations for petroleum engineers include:

  • Reservoirs: These engineers conduct research to determine the best ways to recover gas or oil from underground reservoirs.


  • Drilling: A drilling engineer designs and implements methods to drill oil or gas wells in a safe, environmentally efficient way.


  • Production: These engineers develop systems or processes to maximize the production of oil and gas wells. They also analyze drilling processes and recommend adjustments to increase extraction amounts.


  • Completions: A completions engineer determines ways to optimize the flow of oil or gas through various methods, such as hydraulic fracturing.

Read more: 6 Types of Petroleum Engineers (With Tips for Choosing One)


Petroleum engineer work environment

Petroleum engineers often work for oil and gas companies, engineering firms or petroleum manufacturers. They can work in various locations around the world. While their work environment varies depending on their specialty or employer, these engineers may:

  • Travel frequently to potential drill sites and determine how best to use the location

  • Use their technical expertise to develop methods for efficient extraction of oil and gas

  • Spend hours in an office or laboratory creating and testing new designs for equipment

  • Work full-time hours, including possible overtime due to travel requirements

Related: The Pros and Cons of a Career in Petroleum Engineering


Petroleum engineer requirements

There are several requirements to become a petroleum engineer, including:


Education

The first step toward becoming a petroleum engineer is to earn a bachelor's degree in engineering or a similar field. A bachelor's program in engineering typically includes coursework in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. Special courses may also provide field experience in geology and thermodynamics.

Some universities also offer programs that allow you to earn both a bachelor's and a master's degree in five years. A graduate degree can eventually provide opportunities to teach engineering or to participate in petroleum industry research and development.

Related: What Can You Do With an Engineering Degree? Top 17 Engineering Degree Jobs


Training

After graduating with a degree, you can take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Once you pass this exam, you become an engineer in training (EIT), which allows you to seek employment or internships in the engineering industry. Entry-level engineers typically receive on-the-job training from an experienced engineer. Under the supervision of mentors, you can gain experience and knowledge in the engineering field.

Related: How To Get Your EIT Certification (With FAQ and Tips)


Certifications

After gaining experience as an engineer, you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam in the petroleum discipline. This certification allows you to manage projects, oversee other engineers and provide public services as a licensed engineer, also known as a professional engineer. The requirements to earn this license typically include:

  • A bachelor's degree from an accredited engineering program

  • A passing score on the FE exam

  • Several years of work experience

  • A passing score on the PE exam


Skills

During their education and training, petroleum engineers develop various technical skills and knowledge to perform their job tasks. They can also benefit from having soft skills to analyze efficient extraction methods and collaborate with other team members. Some helpful soft skills for this profession include:

  • Analytical: Petroleum engineers gather, record and interpret large amounts of technical data to design and improve petroleum processing facilities. Their analytical skills help them ensure the safety and success of drill sites and oil rigs.


  • Problem solving: These engineers may troubleshoot problems with drilling designs and methods. Being able to address current issues quickly can help them prevent costly problems.


  • Creativity: As the industry evolves, petroleum engineers develop methods to optimize new drill sites and address unique challenges at those sites. Their creativity can help them develop more efficient facilities to meet the high demand for oil.


  • Communication: Petroleum engineers work closely with contractors, clients and other engineers. They communicate their research, design plans and drilling recommendations clearly and efficiently.

Related: 12 Essential Engineering Skills for Your Resume


Petroleum engineer salary and job outlook

Petroleum engineers can earn lucrative salaries because of their training and technical knowledge. A petroleum engineer makes an average salary of $116,293 per year. Their salary can vary based on their geographic location, employer, level of experience and specialization. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

Employment growth of petroleum engineers may grow 8% by 2031, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This rate is faster than the average growth of other occupations in the general workforce. In the near future, employers may have a high demand for petroleum engineers who can optimize oil and gas production at existing sites, according to the BLS.

Related: FAQ: How Much Does a Drilling Engineer Make?


Petroleum engineer job description example

Here's an example of a petroleum engineer job description to help you understand this role:

Spark Energy Company is seeking an entry-level petroleum engineer for its oil and gas operations. This engineer works closely with the senior energy engineer to design and implement methods for sustainable oil and gas extraction. This position can provide the engineer with valuable experience in the petroleum industry. Recent graduates can apply. The ideal candidate has a bachelor's degree in engineering or a similar area.

Related: How To Become a Petroleum Engineer


Related careers to petroleum engineer

If you want to be a petroleum engineer, you may also be interested in one of these related careers:

  • Mechanical engineer

  • Chemical engineer

  • Civil engineer

  • Design engineer


How to become a petroleum engineer

Here are the steps you can follow to become a petroleum engineer:


1. Earn a degree

After high school, enroll in a college or university to earn a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field. Choose an accredited school to ensure you can become licensed later in your career. Completing coursework from an accredited college of engineering can prepare you to seek employment in the petroleum engineering industry.

Related: Petroleum Engineering Degree (With Benefits and Programs)


2. Gain experience

Before or after you graduate, complete an internship to gain experience in the engineering field. During an internship, you can learn from experienced engineers and develop valuable skills to be successful in the industry. After you graduate, you can also gain experience by applying for entry-level engineering jobs. By working in the field for several years, you can improve your skills and become eligible to take the licensing exam.

Related: How To Get Hired as an Engineer Intern in 8 Steps (With Tips)


3. Pass certification exams

After earning your degree, prepare to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. This exam evaluates your technical knowledge and problem-solving skills. A good score on this exam can qualify you to seek an entry-level position as a petroleum engineer. After gaining this experience, you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam to advance in your career as a licensed petroleum engineer.


4. Apply for jobs

Search for petroleum engineering jobs with oil and gas companies or engineering firms. Prepare an effective resume to show employers your education, training, experience and skills. Make sure to highlight the certifications you've earned to demonstrate your engineering expertise. Emphasizing your practical experience, professional abilities and personal skills can help you get a job in the petroleum engineering industry.

Related: How To Create a Petroleum Engineer Resume in 8 Steps


Please note that the company mentioned in this article is not affiliated with Indeed.

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