A career in this industry may begin anywhere—a small town in the Rocky Mountains, a large U.S. city, or a remote location in any oil, gas, and geothermal producing area of the world. Most petroleum engineers are employed in the exploration for and the production of oil and gas. Others pursue related careers in geothermal energy production, environment protection, and hazardous waste remediation and disposal.
Most jobs involve a combination of office work and the use of expensive, computer-oriented, state-of-the-art technology, plus opportunities for trips to the field to supervise projects that the petroleum engineer has designed. In both cases, they use the state of the art technologies in a wide spectrum of disciplines from earth sciences to engineering, social sciences, management, and economics. Petroleum engineers are typically employed by
- major, fully-integrated international oil companies;
- smaller independent operators;
- specialized companies that provide services for the producing companies;
- or consulting firms in oil and gas or the environmental arena.
Recent graduates are working in production and operations, research, and consulting, and some have university faculty positions. In addition to exciting careers in the petroleum industry, many graduates find rewarding careers in other areas including
- Systems engineering in renewable energy enterprises
New jobs exist in some surprising fields. An example is the current research being conducted to transfer earth drilling technology to space drilling on the moon or mars, using lasers for oil and gas drilling on earth, and ice coring in the Antarctic.
A typical career path begins with the new engineer working for a well-established corporation for training and exposure to the company’s businesses. The entry-level engineer will work on integrated multidisciplinary teams, later moving into middle management or other positions of team leadership. Many engineers then accept upper management within the same company, or begin work with a new company or consulting firm. Petroleum engineers by nature are risk takers, and start up many companies at various stages of their career. In this industry, it is common that one’s career path will include a variety of assignments in many locations around the U.S. or the world. (Overseas assignments are readily available for all who are interested.)
Skills and Education
To be successful in the petroleum industry, it is best to have a solid educational foundation in petroleum engineering—and today this means possessing the requisite interpersonal skills. Teamwork and communication are essential for success and satisfaction. Top professionals enjoy working with integrated multidisciplinary teams on meaningful projects with significant consequences, such as deciding whether or not to spend $1.0 billion on an offshore platform and, if so, where to place it and how to design it.
After graduation, the petroleum engineer begins a path of lifelong learning, facilitated initially by membership as students in professional societies like the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the American Association of Drilling Engineers or the American Rock Mechanics Association, to keep abreast of the latest technologies. Petroleum engineers may specialize during their career in drilling, completions, reservoir or production engineering, or they may move from one area to another as the opportunities present themselves. Petroleum engineers must estimate and manage risk, including operational, and technical risks, or the uncertainty in future oil and gas prices.
Several worldwide trends ensure that the strong demand for petroleum engineers will continue. The ever-increasing population of the earth, combined with the growing thirst for energy in the developing countries, is putting significant upward pressure on the demand for oil and gas production. This increasing demand for energy, and the simple fact that oil and gas resources are limited, places the petroleum engineer in a strong position now and for many years to come
The recent shale developments, first in the United States and then across the world, will demand many petroleum engineers to successfully produce hydrocarbons in an economic and environmentally responsible manner. The era of “easy oil” is over, and more engineers will be required with innovative ideas to produce the energy needed by the world’s growing population, and manage energy price volatility. These new engineers will work closely with other geoscientists in multi-disciplinary teams, and will need good communication skills to convey their ideas to various stakeholders, including their colleagues, investors and the public.
The ever-increasing integration of multidisciplinary teams of professionals—including petroleum engineers, geologists, geophysicists, and others—is another trend shaping the future of the industry. Joint ventures and partnerships among companies, and outsourcing of projects are opening new opportunities and new ways of doing business. These business trends are accelerating simultaneously with technological advances in the areas of computer simulation of underground oil and gas reservoirs, geophysical seismic techniques, horizontal drilling, and offshore drilling and production.
In summary, these trends, in combination with others, indicate that both the short and long-term demand for petroleum engineers will be high; PEs will be provided with expensive tools, and they will be expected to design significant projects in a global environment. In many ways, the atmosphere for petroleum engineers today is more exciting and satisfying than ever before.