How to Become a <br>Petroleum Engineer

How to Become a
Petroleum Engineer

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: September 27, 2022
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Does a job as a Petroleum Engineer sound like it’s right up your alley? If so, keep reading this guide for helpful information you need to know about becoming a Petroleum Engineer, including necessary experience, training and more.

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What Does a Petroleum Engineer Do?

A Petroleum Engineer works for an oil company and is someone who locates reservoirs of natural gas and crude oil to help produce more than three hundred products we use every day, such as medicines, cosmetics, plastics and textiles. Kerosene, propane, heating oil, diesel fuel, plastic and clothing fibers are some products derived from petroleum.

The Petroleum Engineer finds or evaluates oil to see if it has potential or to determine if it will yield a profit. He or she also finds ways to transport oil, store it and determine ways in which to distribute it. As such, the Petroleum Engineer spends a lot of time at a digging site, as well as in offices and research laboratories where they need to find machines that perform the extraction. They oversee the removal and processing of the petroleum oil itself. They also work closely with geologists and other petroleum company team members to safely excavate oil.

Because the Petroleum Engineer has to spend extended periods of time at drilling sites, he or she must be adept at traveling, especially overseas, and be comfortable in the deserts, high seas, mountains and frigid regions of the world in order to find untapped sources of energy.

The Petroleum Engineer also examines future drilling sites in order to plan the safest and most economical method of drilling and recovering oil.

Some other Petroleum Engineer responsibilities and duties include:

  • Designing equipment to extract oil and gas in the most profitable way

  • Installing and maintaining oil and managing the completion of wells

  • Developing ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve to force out more oil

  • Making sure that oil equipment is installed and maintained properly

  • Solving any operational problems that may arise

Petroleum Engineer Skills

During production the Petroleum Engineer monitors yield and develops modifications and stimulation programs to enhance the oil. As such, they need to have problem solving skills and analytical thinking skills. Being a Petroleum Engineer also requires knowledge on how to interact with others from a wide variety of backgrounds, from engineers to scientists, and from gas workers to drillers in order to resolve issues in design, testing or research.

Some other key Petroleum Engineer skills include:

  • Knowing how to Interact with companies and businesses in order to find the best possible solutions for where oil can be deployed

  • A strong interest in the petroleum industry

  • A background in mathematics, physics and chemistry

  • Strong oral and written communication skills.

  • Knowing how to organize and plan the work with specific goals in mind to accomplish it.

How Do You Become a Petroleum Engineer?

Education and Training

According to our analysis of online job postings, employers are looking for a Petroleum Engineer candidate who has at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in petroleum engineering. A candidate may also get their BA or BS in chemical or mechanical engineering. While in college, he or she can focus on classroom, lab and field study programs where they study engineering basics, geology and thermodynamics.

Work experience gained through cooperative education programs that award academic credit for job experience is also highly valued by employers.

Candidates can also earn  a graduate degree. Although this is unnecessary, employers do seek out candidates who have higher degrees.. And a master’s, for example, may be needed for positions in research or posts at colleges or universities.

Self-employed engineers need to be licensed as professional engineers (PEs). Licensure generally requires a  candidate to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Professional Engineering (PE) exam. The candidate must have relevant work experience, typically at least for four years, before taking the Principles and Practice Engineering exam to qualify for licensure. In some states, you need continuing education to keep your license.

After becoming a Petroleum Engineer, a person can pursue optional certification through the Society of Petroleum Engineers, where he or she must be educated about petroleum and passing another test. They must  have an undergraduate engineering degree in petroleum engineering or a related science, and at least four years of experience and training in engineering.

Finding a Job

Demand for Petroleum Engineers  is increasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 10 percent growth for the position through 2024, amounting to a total of 1,200 openings for Petroleum Engineers during that period. The faster-than-average growth for the profession is being driven by the need for oil by companies or businesses.

Given this projected growth, aspiring Petroleum Engineers are likely to find many job opportunities at  research institutions, at companies, and in undergraduate or graduate programs.

Any successful job search begins with crafting a high-quality resume that highlights your skills and experience. For guidance on creating a resume, take a look at JobHero’s library of Petroleum Engineers resume samples.

Once your resume is complete, search online for job opportunities. As you look for Petroleum Engineer openings, be sure to make the most of your professional network, including people you met in college or graduate school.

When applying for jobs, write a cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you would bring to the role. Take a look at a our cover letter samples for help.


Insights from a Petroleum Engineer

In order to get an inside look at how to become a Petroleum Engineer, we talked to Islin Munisteri, principal Petroleum Reservoir Engineer at Islin Ventures LLC. Here’s what she had to tell us.

What should someone consider before becoming a Petroleum Engineer? 

Are you ready to stomach the risk associated with the job? Are you prepared to be unemployed some years of your career? This is high risk, high reward. Manage your personal risk and uncertainty appropriately when looking at becoming a Petroleum Engineer. 

What type of person excels in this job?

You need to be sharp and be able to hold your ground in the face of constructive (and sometimes not so constructive) criticism. You will have lots of responsibility early on in your career. You will be making recommendations for multi-million dollar applications for expenditures, based on your technical work from Day 1. You need to be able to make business decisions, figure out what is the root of the problem and work well with everyone else. This is a multi-disciplinary enterprise. 

What are some of the most important skills for a Petroleum Engineer to Have? 

The technical skills are key to getting past the first five years. Without good technical skills, you have no base on which to stand on for the rest of your career. These skills include having a knowledge of drilling, completions, production, and reservoir engineering, as well as the underlying economics. Then you need to go deep within your particular discipline. For me, that is reservoir engineering – so I need to know how to perform material balance, decline analysis, pressure transient analysis, and reservoir simulation to determine oil and gas rates and reserves. 

The soft skills need to be developed at the same time as the technical skills and it is always a learning process. This includes negotiations, managing your manager, and learning how to form alliances not only across different technical disciplines but also across companies as well. I recommend getting involved with Society of Petroleum Engineers to get to know folks in different capacities across the industry. 

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Petroleum Engineer?

I take some refuge in the knowledge that without oil and gas, we would not be able to exist as first world countries. Oil and gas also empowers third world countries to accelerate their development. We power the world. 

How Much Do Petroleum Engineers Get Paid?

Petroleum Engineers are typically paid on a yearly basis, with the median annual wage in the United States being $130,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest-paid Petroleum Engineer makes about $74,900 a year, while the highest-paid can earn more than $187,200..

Top 10 States for Petroleum Engineers Salary

Petroleum Engineers in the following states make the highest median yearly wage in the U.S.





















    Petroleum Engineer Resources

    We compiled this list of additional resources to help you continue exploring a career as a Petroleum Engineer.

    Professional Groups

    Society of Petroleum Engineers
    SPE is the largest individual member organization serving managers, engineers, scientists and other professionals worldwide in the upstream segment of the oil and gas industry.

    Society of Petroleum Evaluation Engineers
    Dedicated to the promotion of professional growth for Petroleum Engineers

    American Institute of Mining Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers
    A professional body for mining and metallurgy, with over 145,000 members.


    Penn Energy
    Provides industry professionals worldwide with timely, in-depth and relevant resources required to stay abreast of energy topics

    Drillinginfo Blog
    Enabling the world to make smarter oil and gas decisions.

    Fuel Fix
    A daily must-read source for news and analysis on the energy business

    Energy In Depth
    A research, education and public outreach campaign run by the Independent Petroleum Association of America


    The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power
    Called the best history of oil ever written, this is a Pulitzer Prize–winning account about the global pursuit of oil, money, and power.

    Fundamentals of Oil & Gas Accounting
    a very good resource about oil and gas accounting using the special terminology, complexity, and myriad issues associated with the oil and gas industry

    Petroleum Refining in Nontechnical Language
    An overview of key refining topics by using relevant analogies, easy-to-understand graphs, formulas, and illustrations

    The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.