How to Become a
Drilling Engineer

Man with safety gear inspecting a valve

Are you interested in a career as a Drilling Engineer? This guide is packed with information and resources on becoming a Drilling Engineer. Learn about the educational requirements for the job, what the position pays and more.

What Does a Drilling Engineer Do?

Drilling Engineers design, plan and implement measures to drill wells as safely and as cost effectively as possible. They supervise the process from the initial well design to testing and completion. Drilling Engineers extract minerals, metal ores, oil and natural gas across a variety of terrains on land and underwater.

Drilling Engineers can be employed on land, offshore platforms or on mobile drilling units. The role involves administering drilling and service contracts, engineering designs and supervising the drilling crew on site. In order to make sure everything goes according to plan, Drilling Engineers work with other professionals, such as Geologists, to monitor the drilling progress, oversee safety aspects, ensure the protection of the environment and any other developments that may have an impact on drilling activities.

Assessing the suitability of new and existing well sites; collecting and analyzing data, daily production and extraction are some of the responsibilities of this profession. Monitoring day-to-day operations like these against budgets is very much part of the job. A Drilling Engineer is tasked with calculating the cost of machinery and the construction of rigs, platforms and other structures. The budgetary responsibilities may also extend to forecasting targeted mineral or resource quantities without additional investment or infrastructure. This involves preparing work schedules and comprehensive drilling plans to meet project objectives. One also has to provide effective solutions for operational stability, equipment failures and other onsite issues.

Drilling Engineers also need to ensure that work is completed within schedule and budget. They make certain that drilling operations comply with statutory and regulatory requirements, with regard to health and safety, emergency procedures and disaster recovery. Thereafter they are responsible for commencing the appropriate procedures for closing the project suitably.

A Drilling Engineer’s responsibilities can vary depending on the employer but tasks often include:

  • Designing wells and directional well paths

  • Working out cost estimates and assessing risk

  • Reporting and optimizing operations

  • Monitoring safety and maintenance

  • Managing the logistics and reporting

Drilling Engineer Skills

Interpersonal skills are often underestimated. Team building, problem solving, and finding the best person for different types of problems are skills vital to a Drilling Engineer. Knowledge of multiple languages is an added advantage. Working long shifts can be expected as drilling is generally done on a 24/7 basis. Drilling Engineers need to be flexible with regards to travel or relocation to somewhere else in the world. When working on offshore rigs, Drilling Engineers and their crew sleep, eat and spend all their free time on the rig as well. Accommodation and meals are provided for.

Other key Drilling Engineer skills include:

  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills as you will be working with a range of people

  • Numeracy and IT skills

  • Analytical ability to deconstruct problems and develop solutions

  • The ability to work under pressure

How Do You Become a Drilling Engineer?

Education and Training

To enter this profession, you’ll need a degree in a subject such as civil engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, mineral engineering, geology or earth sciences. The undergraduate subjects should include mathematics, science and engineering. Prospective Drilling Engineers can also complete a master's degree engineering; which can be completed in two years and covers application of knowledge like reservoir engineering and hydro-geology. Students can also choose to complete a dual program where you can earn both a bachelor's and master's degree in five years of study.

A mentoring scheme is often available to allow new graduates to gain the necessary experience and professional support of more senior engineers. Most major employers of Drilling Engineers recruit potential employees through graduate schemes. Potential Drilling Engineers can gain valuable work experience under the supervision of experienced colleagues. These graduates can earn certification through the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) which offers a voluntary certification in the field. Potential candidates are expected to have an undergraduate engineering degree, four years of work experience and good work ethic. To achieve this qualification, applicants must pass an exam and be a member of the SPE.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Drilling Engineers must be licensed by the state they work in. This requires an accredited bachelor's degree in the field, several years of experience and passing the Fundamentals of Engineering and Professional Engineering exams. Those who qualify must meet continuing education requirements in order to keep their license. Sustaining this license can create avenues for career progression.

Since overseas placements are common, knowledge of foreign languages may often be preferred. Having the flexibility to relocate is crucial in building a long-term and successful career in the drilling industry.

The main employers of drilling engineers tend to be large multinational corporations or a drilling contractor, engineering consultancies or a specialist service company. Drilling Engineers mostly remain in a technical role, utilizing their knowledge and experience to develop technology for future drilling. Independent consultancy is another remuneration option.

Finding a job

Drilling Engineers fall under the umbrella of Petroleum Engineers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand for this category is projected to grow from 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Oil prices are a major determinant of employment growth.

Take a look at our library of Drilling Engineer resume samples to get some inspiration when working on yours. A high-quality resume that highlights your skills and experience is a good start to any successful job search.

Once you have created your resume, the next step is to start your online search for Drilling Engineer job opportunities. As you look for openings, be sure to check in with people you met through an internship or mentorship or any relevant work experience.

When you have found Drilling Engineer jobs that you can apply for, you will need a cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you will bring to the role. For help have a look at our collection of cover letter samples.

Insights from a Drilling Engineer

For a better understanding of what to expect in this industry we asked professional Drilling Engineers and here's how they feel about their job.

What is the common career path for a Drilling Engineer?

The first step to becoming a drilling engineer is to earn a degree from an accredited university. A related degree can be one in petroleum engineering which covers all the basic scientific and mathematical principles related to the field. Although not required petroleum engineers may also be interested in acquiring a master's degree in petroleum engineering. A good option would be to pursue an internship before graduating so you have some sort of experience when you graduate and can get a job quicker after passing the drilling engineer license program.

What should someone consider before becoming a Drilling Engineer?

If you have the ability and health to work long erratic hours and at spontaneous times then you should be good. Some drilling engineers have reported working 80 hours at a time. Another thing to consider is that Drilling Engineers work in hazardous environments where nothing is certain.

What type of person excels in this job?

Skills or personality traits related to success in this industry are people open to new experiences and with high consciousness. People who are organized and diligent with regards to problem-solving and analytical thinking, surely excel in this industry.

What are some of the most important skills for Drilling Engineers to have?

People interested in this industry should be able to communicate and maintain a great relationship with their peers. Other important skills are a good understanding of scientific college classes such as geology, physics, maths, and chemistry. Great analytical mind and the ability to think through complex problems and generate solutions to those problems. Initiative and drive should be something innate as well.

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

Most drilling engineers will travel a lot at the beginning of their careers. So if you like to travel this is an excellent opportunity. Another important aspect is that the demand for drilling engineers is expected to double in the years to come. Apart from that, drilling engineers earn an annual median salary of about $125,000 (in 2016).

How Much Do Drilling Engineer Get Paid?

Drilling Engineers are typically paid on an hourly basis, with the median hourly wage in the United States being $72. The lowest-paid Drilling Engineers make about $36 per hour, while the highest-paid can earn equal to or more than $90 per hour. The bulleted list below will include BLS data for the top 10 states for median wage from highest to lowest.

Top 10 States for Drilling Engineer Salary

Drilling Engineers in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.

    Texas

    $79

    Colorado

    $75

    Alaska

    $70

    Washington

    $68

    Alabama

    $67

    Louisiana

    $66

    California

    $64

    Michigan

    $64

    Oklahoma

    $64

    Indiana

    $63

    Drilling Engineer Resources

    If you are looking for more information, we have put together a list of additional resources to help you as you continue to explore a career as a Drilling Engineer.

    On the Web

    Oilandgastraining.com
    for online training and competency development

    Next
    offers courses and immersive learning programs

    Industry Groups

    International Association of Drilling Contractors
    fosters education and communication for the oil and gas drilling industry

    American Association of Drilling Engineers
    consistently providing technical exchange specifically for Drilling Engineers

    Drilling Engineer Books

    Drilling Engineering
    explains the fundamentals and field practices in drilling operations

    Advanced Drilling Engineering: Principles and Designs
    multidisciplinary information to help in the design and planning of complex wells