What is a Petroleum Engineer?
Petroleum engineers, simply, specialize in procuring oil and natural gas from below the earth’s surface. They’re very involved in the process, beginning with the scouting of prospective sites, determining whether or not those sites should be drilled, and in the best cases, ending with overseeing drilling activity and the subsequent deconstruction of equipment.
Patience is a necessary trait of petroleum engineers as they’re never guaranteed to find oil or natural gas, and when they do, projects can last for years. They must use their creativity to find new ways to force oil out of reservoirs; the oil fields referred to as “low hanging fruit” are few and far between these days.
When they aren’t in the office researching and analyzing new information on potential sites, they’re out in the field observing the action firsthand. This allows them to report back to the decision makers with updates. The work of petroleum engineers not only fuels transportation, but it provides energy to cook and heat our homes, and materials used in the creation of numerous products.
How to Become a Petroleum Engineer
The path to becoming a petroleum engineer is a rigorous one. Petroleum engineering majors spend many hours studying for courses such as principles of thermodynamics, reservoir petrophysics, statics and particle dynamics, petroleum drilling systems, geostatistics and drilling engineering. Prerequisite classes taken during the first couple of semesters include geophysics, geology, calculus, chemistry, and fluid dynamics.
In addition to learning how to spot and drill for oil and natural gas, students become acquainted with environmental laws and familiar with the process by which petroleum is turned to products. Aspiring petroleum engineers who attend schools that don’t offer the major can instead major in geology, geophysics or civil or mechanical engineering while taking classes in petroleum engineering.
Internships may be offered to upperclassmen who exhibit a passion for the subject and have demonstrated academic success. Those who live in states with large petroleum industries, such as Texas, Oklahoma and California, have the easiest time finding internships.
Petroleum Engineer Career Outlook & Salary
Petroleum engineers can expect to see faster-than-average growth from 2008 to 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the world’s oil supply becoming scarcer, it’s becoming increasingly important to maximize existing sources.
There’s great demand for petroleum engineers domestically because the jobs exceed the graduates, as few college students are able to commit to the demands of a degree in the discipline. They’re also coveted around the world, especially where oil and natural gas are more plentiful.
The value of their skills is reflected in their salaries; petroleum engineers receive the highest average starting salary of all the engineering professions, and by a wide margin, earning $83,121 in their first year. Chemical engineers, the next highest paying profession, average almost $20,000 less. Petroleum engineers also receive the highest median annual wage, earning $108,020.