Summary

petroleum engineers image
Petroleum engineers design equipment to extract oil and gas in the most profitable way.
Quick Facts: Petroleum Engineers
2016 Median Pay $128,230 per year
$61.65 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 33,700
Job Outlook, 2016-26 15% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 4,900

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 at drilling and well sites. Travel is frequently required to visit these sites or to meet with other engineers, oilfield workers, and customers.

How to Become a Petroleum Engineer

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

Pay

The median annual wage for petroleum engineers was $128,230 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Oil prices will be a major determinant of employment growth. Higher prices can cause oil and gas companies to increase capital investment in new facilities and expand existing production operations, along with exploration.

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 from onshore and offshore reserves deep underground
  • Develop plans to drill in oil and gas fields, and then to recover the oil and gas
  • Develop ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve to force out more oil or gas
  • Make sure that oilfield equipment is installed, operated, and maintained properly
  • Evaluate the production of wells through surveys, testing, and analysis

Oil and gas deposits, or reservoirs, are located deep in rock formations underground. These reservoirs can be accessed only 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 additional recovery 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—a project that 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 the reservoirs. They also monitor operations to ensure that 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 33,700 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of petroleum engineers were as follows:

Oil and gas extraction 36%
Support activities for mining 14
Management of companies and enterprises 13
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 10
Engineering services 5

Petroleum engineers generally work in offices or at drilling and well sites. Travel is frequently required to visit these sites or to meet with other engineers, oilfield workers, and customers.

Large oil and gas companies maintain operations around the world; therefore, petroleum engineers sometimes work in other countries. Petroleum engineers also must be able to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including other types of engineers, scientists, and oil and gas field workers.

Work Schedules

Petroleum engineers typically work full time. However, about 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours a week in 2016. Overtime may be necessary when traveling to and from drilling sites to help in their operation or respond to problems when they arise.

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 petroleum engineering. However, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering may 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 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 compile and make sense of large amounts of technical information and data in order to ensure that facilities operate safely and effectively.

Creativity. Because each new drill site is unique and therefore presents new challenges, petroleum engineers must be able to come up with creative designs to extract oil and gas.

Interpersonal skills. Petroleum engineers must work with others on projects that require highly complex machinery, equipment, and infrastructure. Communicating and working well with other engineers and oil and gas workers is crucial to ensuring that projects meet customer needs and run safely and efficiently.

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 these problems can be costly. Petroleum engineers must be careful not to overlook any potential issues and must quickly address those which 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 (PE).

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 on which 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 to 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 2016

Petroleum engineers

$128,230

Engineers

$91,010

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for petroleum engineers was $128,230 in May 2016. 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 $73,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for petroleum engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Management of companies and enterprises $153,320
Engineering services 140,510
Oil and gas extraction 134,440
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 123,580
Support activities for mining 106,340

Petroleum engineers typically work full time. However, about 1 in 3 worked more than 40 hours a week in 2016. Overtime may be necessary when traveling to and from drilling and well sites to help in their operation or respond to problems when they arise.

Job Outlook About this section

Petroleum Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Petroleum engineers

15%

Engineers

8%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 4,900 new jobs over the 10-year period.

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 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 also should be strong, as large oil and gas companies find it convenient and cost effective to contract production and drilling work to these firms on an as-needed basis.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be good 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, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Petroleum engineers

17-2171 33,700 38,600 15 4,900 employment projections excel document 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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
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 $134,730
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 $89,780
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 $84,310
Mechanical engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Bachelor's degree $84,190
Civil engineers

Civil Engineers

Civil engineers conceive, design, build, supervise, operate, construct, and maintain infrastructure projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Bachelor's degree $83,540
Chemical engineers

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.

Bachelor's degree $98,340
Mining and geological engineers

Mining and Geological Engineers

Mining and geological engineers design mines to safely and efficiently remove minerals such as coal and metals for use in manufacturing and utilities.

Bachelor's degree $93,720
Geological and petroleum technicians

Geological and Petroleum Technicians

Geological and petroleum technicians provide support to scientists and engineers in exploring and extracting natural resources, such as minerals, oil, and natural gas.

Associate's degree $56,470

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, Petroleum Engineers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/petroleum-engineers.htm (visited November 01, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

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Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

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Contacts for More Information

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2016 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 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

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, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

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 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 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 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.