Petroleum engineers

Petroleum engineers devise methods and processes to extract oil and natural gas. After a suitable site has been found, the petroleum engineer works with geologists, technicians, and other engineers to organize and establish the most productive way to drill. They are constantly pursuing new and improved methods and equipment in order to maximize the amount of gas and oil they extract, while following environmental laws and regulations.

Petroleum engineers can also specialize further within their field. They may focus on a specific aspect of the drilling or processing operation, or on the type of location the operation will be drilling in. Some work exclusively on completing wells efficiently, while others work to limit environmental damage from extraction operations.

Duties may include:

  • Designing new and improved methods for extracting and processing oil and gas
  • Overseeing the construction of wells and other equipment
  • Evaluating the rates and quality of production and developing ways to improve them
  • Ensuring that equipment and processes operate as designed and according to regulations
  • Consulting with engineers and other personnel on problems or complex projects
  • Managing the work and workers involved with setting up, using, and maintaining machinery for drilling


A bachelor's degree in engineering is required in order to work as an engineer in this field. While an engineering degree in petroleum engineering is not mandated, it is encouraged. Students are also advised to participate in internships and work exchanges that provide them with real-world and practical experience in addition to their academic education. Graduate degrees in this field may qualify engineers for teaching, research, and development work.

In order to make their services open to the public, petroleum engineers must have be licensed. They can earn a license to become a professional engineer. This requires the engineer to have a bachelor's degree in engineering from an accredited program, significant work experience, and pass one or more exams. Engineers in some states may have to continue their training or education over their career in order to keep their license. Petroleum engineers can also earn a professional certification by meeting certain professional requirements.


  • Analytical skills. Petroleum engineers must be analyze all aspects and factors of a drilling operation before beginning construction. Because it is such a complex process, involving many workers, engineers need to plan thoroughly and consider all possible outcomes of different design options.
  • Creativity. Current methods of drilling for gas and oil are not especially efficient, so petroleum engineers try to devise new methods and equipment for improved extraction. They must invent new ways to look at existing problems.
  • Math skills. Engineers use calculations and mathematical principles in many aspects of their design, production, and problem-solving work.
  • Problem-solving skills. Because drilling operations can be very expensive, petroleum engineers need to plan for potential problems during the extraction and be able to produce workable solutions quickly if issues arise.

Job Outlook


Job opportunities are expected to grow significantly for petroleum engineers over the next several years, far more quickly than the average rate for all occupations. As oil prices increase and fuel sources are more depleted, petroleum engineers will be hired to find new and improved ways to drill and extract fuel. In addition, many petroleum engineers are also expected to retire, thus opening up more positions.

  Occupation Description Entry-Level Education 2012 Median Pay
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Bachelor's degree $85,150
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Associate's degree $51,980
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Bachelor's degree $80,580
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Bachelor's degree $91,830

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