Petroleum Engineers

Summary

petroleum engineers image
Petroleum engineers design equipment to extract oil and gas in the most profitable way.
Quick Facts: Petroleum Engineers
2015 Median Pay $129,990 per year
$62.49 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 35,100
Job Outlook, 2014-24 10% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 3,400

What Petroleum Engineers Do

Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

Work Environment

Petroleum engineers generally work in offices or in research laboratories. However, they also must spend time at drilling sites, often for long periods of time.

How to Become a Petroleum Engineer

Petroleum engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably in petroleum engineering. However, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical or chemical engineering may also meet employer requirements. Employers also value work experience, so cooperative engineering programs, in which students earn academic credit and job experience, are valuable as well.

Pay

The median annual wage for petroleum engineers was $129,990 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Oil prices will be a major determinant of employment growth. As higher prices lead to increasing complexity of oil companies’ operations, more engineers may be required for each drilling operation.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for petroleum engineers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of petroleum engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about petroleum engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Petroleum Engineers Do About this section

Petroleum engineers
Petroleum engineers help find oil and gas for the country’s energy needs.

Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

Duties

Petroleum engineers typically do the following:

  • Design equipment to extract oil and gas in the most profitable way
  • Develop ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve to force out more oil
  • Develop plans to drill in oil and gas fields, and then to recover the oil and gas
  • Evaluate the production of wells through testing and surveys
  • Use computer-controlled drilling or fracturing to connect a larger area of an oil and gas deposit to a single well
  • Make sure that oil field equipment is installed, operated, and maintained properly

Oil and gas deposits, or reservoirs, are located deep in rock formations underground. These reservoirs can only be accessed by drilling wells, either on land or at sea from offshore oil rigs.

Once oil and gas are discovered, petroleum engineers work with geoscientists and other specialists to understand the geologic formation of the rock containing the reservoir. They then determine the drilling methods, design the drilling equipment, implement the drilling plan, and monitor operations.

The best techniques currently being used recover only a portion of the oil and gas in a reservoir, so petroleum engineers also research and develop new ways to recover more of the oil and gas. This helps to lower the cost of drilling and production.

The following are examples of types of petroleum engineers:

Completions engineers decide the best way to finish building wells so that oil or gas will flow up from underground. They oversee work to complete the building of wells, which might involve the use of tubing, hydraulic fracturing, or pressure-control techniques.

Drilling engineers determine the best way to drill oil or gas wells, taking into account a number of factors, including cost. They also ensure that the drilling process is safe, efficient, and minimally disruptive to the environment.

Production engineers take over wells after drilling is completed. They typically monitor wells’ oil and gas production. If wells are not producing as much as expected, production engineers figure out ways to increase the amount being extracted.

Reservoir engineers estimate how much oil or gas can be recovered from underground deposits, known as reservoirs. They study reservoirs’ characteristics and determine which methods will get the most oil or gas out of them. They also monitor operations to ensure that the optimal levels of these resources are being recovered.

Work Environment About this section

Petroleum engineers
Petroleum engineers generally work in an office setting, but must sometimes work on site to monitor operations.

Petroleum engineers held about 35,100 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most petroleum engineers were as follows:

Oil and gas extraction 45%
Support activities for mining 16
Management of companies and enterprises 9
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 9
Engineering services 4

Petroleum engineers generally work in offices or in research laboratories. However, they also must spend time at drilling sites, often for long periods of time. This means they must travel, sometimes with little notice.

Petroleum engineers work around the world; in fact, the best employment opportunities may include some work in other countries. Petroleum engineers also must be able to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including other oil and gas workers who will carry out the engineers’ drilling plans.

Work Schedules

Petroleum engineers typically work full time. However, about 2 in 5 worked more than 40 hours a week in 2014. Overtime may be necessary when traveling to and from drilling sites to help in their operation or respond to problems when they arise. When they are at a drilling site, it is common for these engineers to work in a rotation: on duty for 84 hours and then off duty for 84 hours.

How to Become a Petroleum Engineer About this section

Petroleum engineers
Petroleum engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably in petroleum engineering.

Petroleum engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably in petroleum engineering. However, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical or chemical engineering may also meet employer requirements. Employers also value work experience, so college cooperative-education programs, in which students earn academic credit and job experience, are valuable as well.

Education

Students interested in studying petroleum engineering will benefit from taking high school courses in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and in science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.

Entry-level petroleum engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degree programs include classes, laboratory work, and field studies 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.

Some colleges and universities offer 5-year programs in chemical or mechanical engineering that lead to both a bachelor’s degree and a master's degree. Some employers may prefer applicants who have earned a graduate degree. A graduate degree also allows an engineer to work as an instructor at some universities or in research and development.

ABET accredits programs in petroleum engineering.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Petroleum engineers must be able to assess complex plans for drilling and anticipate possible flaws or complications before the company commits money and people to a project.

Creativity. Petroleum engineers must come up with new ways to extract oil and gas because each new drill site presents challenges. They must know how to ask the necessary questions to find possible deposits of oil and gas.

Interpersonal skills. Petroleum engineers must work with others on projects that require highly expensive machinery, equipment, and infrastructure. Communicating and working well with others is crucial to protecting and preserving firms’ huge capital investments.

Math skills. Petroleum engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Identifying problems in drilling plans is critical for petroleum engineers because drilling operations can be costly. They must be careful not to overlook any potential issues and quickly address problems that do occur.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as a petroleum engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Several states require engineers to take continuing education courses in order to keep their licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states if the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements.

The Society of Petroleum Engineers offers certification. To be certified, petroleum engineers must be members of the Society, pass an exam, and meet other qualifications.

Advancement

Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers also may receive formal training. As engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects where they have greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, petroleum engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some become engineering managers or move into other managerial positions. For more information, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.

Petroleum engineers also may go into sales and use their engineering background to inform the discussion of a product's technical aspects with potential buyers and help in product planning, installation, and use. For more information, see the profile on sales engineers.

Pay About this section

Petroleum Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2015

Petroleum engineers

$129,990

Engineers

$90,060

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for petroleum engineers was $129,990 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $74,880, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $187,200.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for petroleum engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Engineering services $155,940
Management of companies and enterprises 152,450
Oil and gas extraction 140,910
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 122,700
Support activities for mining 106,120

Petroleum engineers typically work full time. However, about 2 in 5 worked more than 40 hours a week in 2014. Overtime may be necessary when traveling to and from drilling sites to help in their operation or respond to problems when they arise. When they are at a drilling site, it is common for these engineers to work in a rotation: on duty for 84 hours and then off duty for 84 hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Petroleum Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Petroleum engineers

10%

Total, all occupations

7%

Engineers

4%

 

Employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects should be favorable because many engineers are expected to retire.

Oil prices will be a major determinant of employment growth. Because many petroleum engineers work in oil and gas extraction, any changes in oil prices will likely affect employment levels. Higher prices can cause oil and gas companies to drill in deeper waters and in less hospitable places and return to existing wells to try new extraction methods. This means that oil drilling operations will likely become more complex and will require more engineers to work on each drilling operation.

Demand for petroleum engineers in support activities for mining should also be strong, as oil and gas companies find it convenient and cost-effective to seek their services on an as-needed basis.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be favorable because of projected growth and because many petroleum engineers may retire or leave the occupation for other reasons over the next decade.

Employment projections data for petroleum engineers, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Petroleum engineers

17-2171 35,100 38,500 10 3,400 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of petroleum engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Aerospace engineers

Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers design primarily aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.

Bachelor's degree $107,830
Architectural and engineering managers

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities in architectural and engineering companies.

Bachelor's degree $132,800
Chemists and materials scientists

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which the substances interact with one another. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Bachelor's degree $72,610
Geoscientists

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.

Bachelor's degree $89,700
Industrial engineering technicians

Industrial Engineering Technicians

Industrial engineering technicians help industrial engineers implement designs to use personnel, materials, and machines effectively in factories, stores, healthcare organizations, repair shops, and offices. They prepare machinery and equipment layouts, plan workflows, conduct statistical production studies, and analyze production costs.

Associate's degree $53,780
Industrial engineers

Industrial Engineers

Industrial engineers find ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.

Bachelor's degree $83,470
Materials engineers

Materials Engineers

Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a wide range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.

Bachelor's degree $91,310
Mechanical engineering technicians

Mechanical Engineering Technicians

Mechanical engineering technicians help mechanical engineers design, develop, test, and manufacture mechanical devices, including tools, engines, and machines. They may make sketches and rough layouts, record and analyze data, make calculations and estimates, and report their findings.

Associate's degree $53,910
Mechanical engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Bachelor's degree $83,590
Sales engineers

Sales Engineers

Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Bachelor's degree $97,650

Contacts for More Information About this section

For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For information about the Professional Engineer license, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For information about certification, visit

Society of Petroleum Engineers

O*NET

Petroleum Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Petroleum Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/petroleum-engineers.htm (visited August 31, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

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2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.