The primary objectives of petroleum engineering are the safe and environmentally sound exploration, evaluation, development, and recovery of oil, gas, geothermal, and other fluids in the earth. Skills in this branch of engineering are needed to meet the world’s ever-increasing demand for hydrocarbon fuel, thermal energy, and waste and pollution management.
One of our objectives in the Petroleum Engineering Department is to prepare students to succeed in an energy industry that is evolving into an industry working with many energy sources. Besides developing technical competence in petroleum engineering, you will learn how your education can help you contribute to the development of alternative energy sources such as geothermal. In addition to exciting careers in the petroleum industry, many petroleum engineering graduates find rewarding careers in the environmental arena, law, medicine, business, and many other walks of life.
All disciplines within the field of petroleum engineering, which can be categorized into drilling, production, and reservoir engineering, are covered in depth at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Specific areas of focus are fundamental fluid and rock behavior, well design and construction, well completion and stimulation, formation evaluation, well testing, reservoir characterization, production operations and artificial lift, reservoir engineering and management, supplemental recovery, economic evaluation of petroleum projects and unconventional oil and gas reservoirs.
A student in our undergraduate program will be involved in math, computer sciences, chemistry, physics, general engineering, the humanities, technical communication, including report writing and public speaking, environmental issues and corporate social responsibility. The breadth and depth of our program is designed to prepare each graduate for a successful career with both technical competence and managerial ability.
The department also offers petroleum engineering undergraduate students a five-year, combined undergraduate/graduate program.
Two summer sessions, one after the completion of the sophomore year and one after the junior year, are important parts of the educational experience. The first is a one-week session designed to introduce the student to the petroleum industry. Various career opportunities are highlighted as well as showing petroleum field and office operations and geology. In addition, students are indoctrinated in health, safety, and environmental awareness. Historically, the areas visited have included Europe, Alaska, Canada, the U.S. Gulf Coast, California, the Midcontinent, the Northeast US, and the Rocky Mountain Region.
The two-week session, after the junior year, is an in-depth study of the Rangely Oil Field and surrounding geology in Western Colorado. The Rangely Oil Field is the largest oil field in the Rocky Mountain region and has undergone primary, secondary, and enhanced recovery processes. Field work in the area provide the setting for understanding the complexity of geologic systems and the environmental and safety issues in the context of reservoir development and management.
We want to provide a broader skill set to our undergraduate students so they are better qualified for the PE jobs, as well as for opportunities in related industries. This will be accomplished by offering three new minor programs to our students in:
- Midstream – starting Academic Year 2017-18.
- Corporate Social Responsibility – starting Academic Year 2017-2018
- Petroleum Data Analytics – projected availability Academic Year 2017-18
The Externship Program was started to give valuable experience to undergraduate students unable to secure industry internships. The program offers juniors the chance to work with industry-provided data-sets for various projects, train on software, make field visits, and gain additional experience in other areas. The five-week summer program has multiple tracks led by PE faculty and mentors composed of current grad students and recent PE Mines alumni. Previous externship tracks have included Drilling and Production Analytics, Enhanced Oil Recovery, and Hydraulic Facture Design and Refracturing Treatments.
Each track had its own focus and tasks, but all of the tracks had students give final oral and written reports to industry representatives.
Undergraduate and graduate students have the opportunity to participate in exchange programs with the petroleum engineering departments of the following institutions:
- Mining University of Leoben, Austria
- Technical University in Delft, Holland
- The Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
- University of Adelaide, Australia
Qualified undergraduate and graduate students from each school can attend the other for one semester and receive transfer credit back at their home university. Students should coordinate their study abroad semester with Mary Cook, associate director of international programs, and Terri Snyder, undergraduate program advisor for the Petroleum Engineering Department.
Chevron Short Course Series
The Chevron Short Course Series provides intensive one- or two-day courses in software or skills that will be beneficial to seniors about to enter the workforce. Previous short course topics have included Sucker Rod Pumping Fundamentals, Decline Curve Analysis, Big Data Analytics, Aries, Fracture Design and Introduction to Numerical Simulation.
The Petroleum Engineering Department encourages involvement with the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the American Association of Drilling Engineers, and the American Rock Mechanics Association. The department provides some financial support for students attending the annual technical conferences for these professional societies.
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.