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Petroleum Engineer Career Guide

A petroleum engineer is responsible for devising the methods that are designed to improve oil and gas extraction from deposits below the earths surface. To become a successful petroleum engineer, you will need to display excellent analytical skills, creativity, interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills and, of the utmost importance, mathematical skills… if this sounds like you, and you’re looking for an exciting career with lots of travel and progression opportunities, then read on!

Petroleum engineering is not just a great profession; it’s the best profession... Name another profession that is fun, intellectually and physically challenging, personally and financially rewarding, and critical to true global sustainability on both a macro and micro scale. I can’t think of one.

Rustom K. Mody

Petroleum Engineer Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Overview

What an petroleum engineer actually does

A petroleum engineer is responsible for devising the methods that are designed to improve oil and gas extraction from deposits below the earths surface. They will also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells. The typical responsibilities for petroleum engineer differ depending on how much experience they have and who they work for. However, as a petroleum engineer you can expect to be carrying out duties such as:

  • Analyzing geological data and interpreting the results
  • Designing equipment to extract oil and gas from onshore and offshore reserves
  • Developing plans to drill in oil and gas fields
  • Ascertaining extraction risks
  • Recovering oil and gas from the fields
  • Developing ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve (which will then force out more oil or gas)
  • Making sure that equipment is installed, operated and maintainer properly
  • Evaluating the production of wells through surveys, testing and analysis

Why they are needed

As humans, we have developed a society dependent on oil and gas. Although there are many environmental and ethical issues surrounding this, in order to thrive as we currently are, we need to seek new sources of petroleum – and petroleum engineers have the skills and knowledge to do this. Furthermore, in our modern and more environmentally minded world, petroleum engineers have a new job to do. They are needed to help balance the environmental impact with maintaining an affordable supply of petroleum resources.

Pros and cons of a career as a petroleum engineer:

Pros:

  • Petroleum engineers are offered competitive salaries
  • Petroleum engineers are in high demand and there is lots of opportunity for advancement and progression
  • It is an exciting career as petroleum engineers get paid to travel to lots of different locations, which makes it an exciting career path
  • The work as a petroleum engineer is rewarding as they are helping with the effective functioning of many societies
  • There is a lot of variety because petroleum engineers can work on a number of different projects

Cons:

  • It is a competitive job market
  • There is often a lot of studying required to become a petroleum engineer (e.g., a bachelors degree, a masters degree and further training)
  • They may be employed overseas, which can impact work-life balances
  • Petroleum engineers may have to work in offshore locations, which can have poor living conditions and be isolating
  • Petroleum engineers may be exposed to hazardous substances
  • Petroleum engineers may often have to work long hours or an erratic schedule

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Because many petroleum engineers work in oil and gas extraction, changes in oil prices will be a major determinant of the employment growth. High prices can cause oil and gas companies to increase capital investment in new facilities and expand existing production operations. Typically, companies also expand exploration for new reserves of oil and gas when prices are high.

Demand for petroleum engineers in support activities for mining should continue to be strong, as large oil and gas companies find it convenient and cost effective to contract production and drilling work to these firms as needed.

Career paths

In order to land an entry-level petroleum engineer job, you will need a bachelors degree in engineering (preferably petroleum engineering). Whilst studying, you will learn through classes, laboratory work and field study in areas such as engineering principles, geology, and thermodynamics. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.

In order to have the best employment and development opportunities, some petroleum engineers will complete a 5-year program in chemical or mechanical engineers that leads to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Regardless of what route they choose, all aspiring petroleum engineers should aim to complete ABET accredited programs.

After completing the relevant degree and on-the-job training (where they will be supervised by experience engineers) to become licensed, petroleum engineers can advance to supervise teams of engineers and technicians. At the later stages of their career, petroleum engineers may go into sales and use their engineering background to inform the discussion of a products technical aspects with a potential buyer.

Example Job Titles for Petroleum Engineer

Below is a list of common job titles in the Petroleum Engineer field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for petroleum engineers in the United States was $137,720 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $79,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000. The top paying industry was management of companies and enterprises, with a median annual salary of $172,000. This is followed by oil and gas extraction ($137,210), engineering services ($130,790), petroleum and coal products manufacturing ($129,960) and then support activities for mining ($117,150).

Autonomy and Flexibility

Generally speaking, petroleum engineers will have high levels autonomy. They are often very senior members in projects and therefore have control over many decisions. As petroleum engineers progress through their careers, their autonomy will increase further as they gather more experience, knowledge and responsibility.

Flexibility for petroleum engineers is likely to be low. Often, petroleum engineers are employed to work offshore or in various locations across the world. They are likely to have little control over where they work and how long they stay there for!

Locations and commute

According to Zippia, the best states to be a petroleum engineer, based on average annual salary and number of job opportunities, are:

  • New Hampshire, where the average annual salary is $121,544
  • Alaska, where the average annual salary is $128,879
  • Nevada, where the average annual salary is $128,855
  • Oregon, where the average annual salary is $127,604
  • Delaware, where the average annual salary is $121,764

The worst states, according to Zippia, are North Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

Work environment

The largest employer of petroleum engineers in the United States was oil and gas extraction, which hired 34% of all petroleum engineers in 2019. 18% of petroleum engineers were employed by management of companies and enterprises, 14% were employed by support activities for mining, 7% by petroleum and coal products manufacturing and 7% by engineering services.

Petroleum engineers tend to work in offices at drilling and well sites. It is common to travel between different sites and to travel to meet with other engineers, oilfield workers and customers.

Oil and gas companies operate worldwide and therefore, petroleum engineers may regularly work in other countries. Petroleum engineers will work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including other types of engineers, scientists, and oil and gas field workers.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Petroleum Engineer careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Petroleum Engineer career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Petroleum Engineer.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DISC

  • None

Enneagram

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

Personality types

There has been no scientific exploration into exactly what personality types will make a successful petroleum engineer. However, successful engineers are likely to be the the Myers Briggs personality type of INTJ, or otherwise known as ‘the inspector’. INTJ’s are typically responsible, reserved and organized. They have a strong focus on detail and doing things correctly. These skills are key for petroleum engineers, who must notice the most minute issues and fix them correctly.

Accomplishment and mastery

Like most engineering careers, it takes a reasonably long time to become fully qualified and have lots of responsibility and control. Therefore, when a petroleum engineer qualifies fully, they are likely to feel a huge sense of achievement.

Throughout their career, petroleum engineers should be working to improve the way we use and extract oils and gases. Each time a petroleum engineer creates a new way to safely and fairly extract oil, they will feel accomplished.

Meaning and contribution

Many people may criticize petroleum engineers and the part they play in extracting oils and gases. In some ways, their work is not meaningful, as it is harming our planet. However, we need oils and gases to sustain the world as we know it. Therefore, petroleum engineers who work to extract oils and gases in more environmentally friendly ways do have a meaningful job, and they do make a contribution to society.

Life fit

Most petroleum engineers will work normal full time hours. They may have to work overtime to travel to and from drilling sites and to fix problems as they arise. Petroleum engineers may work oversees or at offshore locations for lengths of time – meaning it can provide a difficult life fit for some. 

Who will thrive in this career?

There are many qualities that a petroleum engineer needs in order to thrive. For example, petroleum engineers must be mathematically minded in order to thrive. Similarly, they should have good IT skills and be analytical. They should enjoy working with others, be able to communicate well and have strong teamwork skills. However, as engineers may spend some time offshore, which can be isolating, they must be strong, resilient and able to work alone too.

Petroleum engineering can be a physically demanding job. Therefore, those who are likely to thrive are likely to be in good physical shape and have a good level of fitness. They should also have the ability to work under pressure and enthusiasm for the job!

Who will struggle in this career?

Those who are profusely ethically and environmentally minded are likely to struggle in this career as many people feel that the mining of petroleum is damaging to our environment.

As any type of engineer, you will struggle if you are not naturally creative. Similarly, those who are not natural born problem-solvers and don’t pay attention to detail may struggle as an engineer, who needs to be able to notice and solve even the smallest of issues.

Requirements

Skills and talents

Petroleum engineers will learn many of the skills they need during their education and studying. However, they must also have skills such as:

  • Creativity, because each new drill site is unique and petroleum engineers must be able to come up with creative designs to extract oil and gas
  • Problem-solving skills, as petroleum engineers need to identify problems and address them quickly
  • Attention to detail, as petroleum engineers must not overlook any potential issues
  • Interpersonal skills, as they will need to work with lots of other professionals (e.g., engineers, fieldworkers) and with customers. They must communicate well with others to ensure the project runs safely and smoothly
  • Analytical skills, as petroleum engineers must be able to compile and make sense of large amounts of technical information and data
  • Math skills, as petroleum engineers must use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics for analysis, design and troubleshooting

Education

Petroleum engineers will need a bachelors degree in engineering (preferably petroleum engineering). Generally, most aspiring engineers will complete cooperative programs as this allows students to gain practical experience while completing their education. All petroleum engineers should aim to complete ABET accredited programs.

In order to have the best employment and development opportunities, some petroleum engineers will complete a 5-year program in chemical or mechanical engineers that leads to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.

Certifications

Petroleum engineers can achieve a professional engineering (PE) license later on in their career. Licensing demonstrates an engineer competence and gives them more progression opportunities. Licensed engineers can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off projects and provide service directly to the public. To achieve a PE license, aspiring engineers will need:

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

How to Become

Summary

A petroleum engineer is responsible for devising the methods that are designed to improve oil and gas extraction from deposits below the earths surface. They will also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

They play an important role in our world by ensuring that the extraction of the oil and gases we need is produced in a way that lowers the environmental impact, whilst still maintaining an affordable supply of petroleum resources.

Immediate action

If you’re at high school and looking to become a petroleum engineer, you should consider taking courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and math (including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus). To have the best chance of getting accepted onto an engineering degree programs, we advise having lots of extra-curricular activities (e.g., sports teams, art classes).

Education and learning

Petroleum engineers will need a bachelors degree in engineering that is accredited by the ABET. Some aspiring petroleum engineers will enrol in 5-year programs, where they can obtain a bachelors degree and a master’s degree.

Skill development

Petroleum engineers will learn many of the advanced skills and knowledge they need through their education. Once they graduate, they can take further training in order to give them more career progression opportunities, which will further advance their skills.

FAQs

Ask a Question

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