Petroleum Engineer Job Description

Petroleum engineers develop technologies and processes to locate, extract, refine, and transport crude oil from underground and underwater reservoirs. This is a highly technical role, requiring mastery of mathematics and geophysics, as well as extensive familiarity with industry processes and procedures to identify profitable extraction sites and develop methodologies to safely extract petroleum and prevent environmental damage.

Most petroleum engineers divide their time between offices and extraction sites, traveling to remote or hostile environments to oversee surveying and extraction activities, and supervise technicians who install and operate extraction and transportation equipment. In this role, petroleum engineers focus on balancing efficiency, profitability, and long-term sustainability.


Petroleum Engineer Duties and Responsibilities

Based on job postings that we examined, most petroleum engineers share several core responsibilities:

Design and Improve Extraction Equipment

One of the central duties of a petroleum engineer is designing extraction equipment and systems to retrieve petroleum from underground or underwater reservoirs. Because each reservoir has unique engineering challenges, the petroleum engineer needs to analyze survey data and perform calculations to ensure efficient removal and prevent environmental contamination at the drill site.

Oversee Well Development and Extraction

Petroleum engineers also make frequent visits to extraction sites while developing solutions and planning for well drilling. During these site visits, the petroleum engineer works closely with surveyors and geoscientists to determine the ideal drilling areas and how to build efficient networks of extraction sites throughout the oil field for maximum extraction. Some petroleum engineers remain on site throughout excavation.

Incorporate Injection Methodologies

Petroleum engineers also develop and introduce injection methodologies to extraction processes, in which water, gas, or compressed air is pumped into the reservoir to increase pressure and enhance extraction rates. In this aspect of the role, petroleum engineers determine proper filtration methods to prevent contamination and calculate whether the volume of crude oil extracted justifies the cost.

Maintain and Enhance Equipment

During extraction, refinement, and transport of petroleum products, engineers also identify opportunities to improve equipment efficiency and longevity by developing maintenance processes and best practices. In this aspect of the role, the petroleum engineer identifies areas for improvement. They also perform calculations for equipment enhancement or replacement to improve extraction rates.

Direct Operational Activities

Petroleum engineers also play a central role in operations, determining how to best use technologies to improve methodologies for extraction, transport, storage, and distribution. Petroleum engineers leverage their industry expertise to develop and improve operational activities that save money while ensuring steady production and delivery levels in order to enhance profitability and reduce delays.

Collaborate with Engineers and Technicians

From day to day, petroleum engineers interact with a variety of team members, including extraction technicians and engineers. Senior petroleum engineers may direct the activities of team members during the engineering and extraction processes, while more junior engineers may work closely with other engineers and technicians to ensure that all elements of the extraction process work together as expected.


Petroleum Engineer Skills and Qualifications

Petroleum engineers design and troubleshoot extraction systems for oil reservoirs around the world. Workers in this role tend to have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering and the following skills:

  • Analytical skills – petroleum engineers assess data from surveys and geophysical exploration to determine how to safely and efficiently extract petroleum, so they should excel at data analysis
  • Industry knowledge – this role also requires up-to-date knowledge of processes and practices within the petroleum industry to ensure that drilling and exploration activities adhere to rules and regulations
  • Science and mathematics – petroleum engineers should possess excellent math and physics skills in order to make advanced calculations related to petroleum drilling, extraction, and transport
  • Problem-solving skills – in this position, problem-solving skills are vital, since petroleum engineers frequently need to respond to changing conditions at the extraction site and perform new calculations
  • Organization and planning – petroleum engineers should also be highly organized and able to oversee activities at the extraction site and throughout refining and distribution processes
  • Communication skills – petroleum engineers tend to work with teams of technicians and engineers, so they need excellent verbal and written communication skills


Tools of the Trade

Petroleum engineers tend to divide their time between offices and extraction sites, so they should be familiar with standard office equipment and software in addition to the following:

  • Exploration and production software (Landmark, Prosper)


Petroleum Engineer Education and Training

Petroleum engineers need at least a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering or a related field such as chemical or civil engineering. Additionally, most companies tend to hire candidates with some practical experience, so cooperative-education programs and internships can also help petroleum engineers increase their employment prospects. Petroleum engineers also need to pass certification and licensing examinations and complete several years of work under the supervision of more experienced engineers.


Petroleum Engineer Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that petroleum engineers earned a median annual salary of $132,280 as of May 2017. The highest-paid ten percent of workers in this role earned more than $208,000 per year, while the lowest-paid ten percent earned less than $74,400.

The BLS expects employment of petroleum engineers to grow at a faster-than-average pace of 15 percent between 2016 and 2026.


Helpful Resources

If you’re interested in starting a career as a petroleum engineer, we found a number of helpful resources on the web:

Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) – the SPE is the largest professional organization for petroleum engineers, providing certification examinations, networking opportunities, and industry publications and news.

Introduction to Petroleum Engineering by John R. Fanchi and Richard L. Christiansen – this book provides a complete overview of petroleum engineering, with practical explorations of geophysics, exploration, and drilling.

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) – geoscientists and engineers in the petroleum industry can join the AAPG to access the latest industry news and developments, build their professional networks, and expand their career opportunities.

Introduction to Petroleum Exploration and Engineering by Andrew Clennel Palmer – read this book to learn more about exploration and drilling, along with best practices to prevent environmental contamination and safely extract petroleum from underground reservoirs.


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