How To Become A Petroleum Engineer

Petroleum engineering is a highly competitive career field and there are a number of steps you will have to take to pursue this career. If you are an intelligent individual who loves to solve engineering problems, enjoys working with mathematical concepts, and takes great pride in your work, then this might be the right profession for you. Becoming a petroleum engineer can be a difficult decision due to the long period of time required in school and the large debt that must be paid off after graduation.  

Those who are seeking How To Become Petroleum Engineers should read the following article to gather a full understanding of those with the job title of a petroleum engineer. You will not only learn what they do and how they complete their work, but you will also find details on what it takes to become a petroleum engineer, as well as money earned, common universities for this occupation, as well as potential places of employment.

what does a petroleum engineer do?

Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.


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.

The following are examples of types of petroleum engineers:

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.

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.

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.

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.

How to Get a Petroleum Engineer Degree

These positions require a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering, or chemical engineering. These academic programs include classroom, lab, and field studies. They commonly focus on 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. A solid foundation in math and science is excellent preparation for college studies.

Graduate degrees can provide an edge in the job market, and are generally required for positions at universities, or other research positions. Formal training may be provided to new recruits at larger companies.

Petroleum engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably petroleum engineering. However, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering may meet employer requirements. Employers also value work experience, so college cooperative-education programs, in which students earn academic credit and job experience, are valuable as well.

How To Become A Petroleum Engineer

Petroleum engineers can expect to undergo at least four years of schooling and earn a license to practice. Here are the basic steps to becoming a petroleum engineer:

  1. Earn a high school diploma.
  2. Get a bachelor’s degree.
  3. Consider a graduate degree.
  4. Gain licensure.
  5. Earn certifications.

1. Earn a high school diploma

The first step in becoming a petroleum engineer is to earn a high school diploma or GED. Try to take classes like chemistry, biology, calculus and other math and science courses to prepare for college.

2. Get a bachelor’s degree

A Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering or Petroleum Engineering will typically take four years to complete. The first two years will provide a comprehensive foundation, while advanced work in the last two years will cover various geological courses to understand rock formations. You may also take courses in engineering basics, foundational computer application systems and environmental science.

Near the end of your undergraduate coursework, take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. It is a 6-hour long computer-based exam consisting of 110 questions, and successful completion will earn you the title Engineer-in-Training. Being an EIT shows you’re on the path to earning a Professional Engineer license, which many employers seek.

3. Consider a graduate degree

Although a graduate degree is not often required, many employers prefer this qualification and could increase your earning potential. Some universities offer options to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at the same time. Fieldwork and paid work are often incorporated into this option, which may qualify you for leadership roles or teaching.

4. Get experience

To get an engineering license, you need four years of engineering experience supervised by a licensed engineer. Your college or university can often assist with placement, and the National Society of Professional Engineers updates opportunities on their website as well.

5. Gain licensure

Every state requires independently-employed or contracted engineers to be licensed. It validates your expertise and qualifications to employers and clients. Requirements to obtain one vary per state but you’ll likely need at least a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering from a school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

You must also pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering Examination. Once you meet the requirements, you can apply to become a Professional Engineer. Renewal of your license will be needed but time periods and requirements vary by state.

6. Earn certifications

Petroleum engineers can earn a certification from the Society of Petroleum Engineers. This will prepare you for leadership roles in the petroleum engineering field. Educational background and various required qualifications are similar to those for a state license but include membership in the society with an additional 16 hours per year of continuing education.

how long does it take to become a petroleum engineer?

Petroleum engineering program is usually for 5 years. However, the fifth year is when you are assigned to execute different practical projects. After earning a bachelors degree, you can progress to grab a graduate degree in the field as well.

petroleum engineers salary

The median annual wage for petroleum engineers is $137,720. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $79,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

The median annual wages for petroleum engineers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Management of companies and enterprises$172,000
Oil and gas extraction$137,210
Engineering services$130,790
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing$129,960
Support activities for mining$117,150

Petroleum engineers typically work full time. Overtime may be necessary when traveling to and from drilling and well sites to help in their operation or respond to problems when they arise.

Certification (optional)

Certification is not mandatory, but is available through the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). The SPE establishes standards for competency and professional conduct; produces seminars and networking events; and develops career tools for oil and gas professionals worldwide. To become certified, petroleum engineers must be members of the Society, possess an undergraduate engineering degree, have at least four years of work experience, and pass an exam. To maintain certification, members must annually complete sixteen hours of professional development education.

Most Affordable Petroleum Engineering Degrees

1University of Texas of the Permian BasinOdessa, TX
2South Dakota School of Mines and TechnologyRapid City, SD
3University of WyomingLaramie, WY
4Texas A&M University KingsvilleKingsville, TX
5University of North DakotaGrand Forks, ND
6New Mexico Institute of Mining and TechnologySocorro, NM
7University of Louisiana at LafayetteLafayette, LA
8Montana Tech / University of MontanaButte, MT
9West Virginia UniversityMorgantown, WV
10University of OklahomaOklahoma City, OK

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