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Career in Petroleum Engineering

Students interested in studying petroleum engineering will benefit from taking high school courses in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and in science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Entry-level petroleum engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degree programs include classes, laboratory work, and field studies in areas such as engineering principles, geology, and thermodynamics. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education. Some colleges and universities offer 5-year programs in chemical or mechanical engineering that lead to both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. Some employers prefer applicants who have earned a graduate degree. A graduate degree also allows an engineer to work as an instructor at some universities or in research and development.

Petroleum engineers typically do the following:

  • Design equipment to extract oil and gas from onshore and offshore reserves deep underground
  • Develop plans to drill in oil and gas fields, and then to recover the oil and gas
  • Develop ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve to force out more oil or gas
  • Make sure that oilfield equipment is installed, operated, and maintained properly
  • Evaluate the production of wells through surveys, testing, and analysis

Oil and gas deposits, or reservoirs, are located deep in rock formations underground. These reservoirs can be accessed only by drilling wells, either on land, or at sea from offshore oil rigs. Once oil and gas are discovered, petroleum engineers work with geoscientists and other specialists to understand the geologic formation of the rock containing the reservoir. They then determine the drilling methods, design the drilling equipment, implement the drilling plan, and monitor operations. The best techniques currently being used recover only a portion of the oil and gas in a reservoir, so petroleum engineers also research and develop new ways to recover more of the oil and gas. This additional recovery helps to lower the cost of drilling and production.

Types of petroleum engineers:

  1. Completions engineers decide the best way to finish building wells so that oil or gas will flow up from underground. They oversee work to complete the building of wells—a project that might involve the use of tubing, hydraulic fracturing, or pressure-control techniques.
  2. Drilling engineers determine the best way to drill oil or gas wells, taking into account a number of factors, including cost. They also ensure that the drilling process is safe, efficient, and minimally disruptive to the environment.
  3. Production engineers take over wells after drilling is completed. They typically monitor wells' oil and gas production. If wells are not producing as much as expected, production engineers figure out ways to increase the amount being extracted.
  4. Reservoir engineers estimate how much oil or gas can be recovered from underground deposits, known as reservoirs. They study reservoirs' characteristics and determine which methods will get the most oil or gas out of the reservoirs. They also monitor operations to ensure that optimal levels of these resources are being recovered.

Skills:

  • Analytical skills: Petroleum engineers must be able to compile and make sense of large amounts of technical information and data in order to ensure that facilities operate safely and effectively.
  • Creativity: Because each new drill site is unique and therefore presents new challenges, petroleum engineers must be able to come up with creative designs to extract oil and gas.
  • Interpersonal skills: Petroleum engineers must work with others on projects that require highly complex machinery, equipment, and infrastructure. Communicating and working well with other engineers and oil and gas workers is crucial to ensuring that projects meet customer needs and run safely and efficiently.
  • Math skills: Petroleum engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
  • Problem-solving skills: Identifying problems in drilling plans is critical for petroleum engineers because these problems can be costly. Petroleum engineers must be careful not to overlook any potential issues and must quickly address those which do occur.

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