If you're a science superwoman, you could earn a high income as a petroleum engineer. The field uses math, chemistry, geology, engineering and advanced computer skills. You'll probably get to travel, because energy companies that hire engineers exploit gas and oil reservoirs worldwide. The minimum education required is a bachelor's degree, but many petroleum engineers beef up their resumes with other qualifications. The opportunities and pay for a petroleum engineer career are well worth the trouble.
Petroleum engineers are on the cutting edge of energy production. They check out potential sources of petroleum and gas, and design facilities to collect and treat products. They engineer methods to recover oil and gas from offshore fields, shale and tar sands, including ways to recover the leftovers from older methods. They design equipment for extracting petroleum and gas, including drilling, fracturing and injection methods. When work starts in the field, they put on their hard hats and keep the equipment and process going smoothly.
You need an accredited bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering to get your foot in the door. Engineering degrees are accredited by ABET, or the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, and a bachelor's degree usually takes four years. The curriculum in petroleum engineering typically includes class instruction, labs and field work. Some sample undergraduate courses are chemistry, geology, engineering physics, thermodynamics and reservoir geomechanics. Petroleum engineering students also routinely complete an internship.
If you want to teach or do research in the field of petroleum engineering, you'll need a master's degree or a doctorate. A master of science in petroleum engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, for example, requires 30 to 33 semester hours after the bachelor's degree. Some schools combine the bachelor's and master's degrees in a five- or six-year program, and often include cooperative work. Ph.D. degrees in petroleum engineering are also available and require additional coursework, examinations and a thesis.
Certification and Licensing
A state engineering license is required to hang out your shingle or work directly for the public. The qualifications include an accredited engineering degree, a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, work experience and a pass on the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. You can also stand out from the crowd by getting certification from the Society of Petroleum Engineers, which requires an accredited degree, a competency exam and at least four years of experience.
Employers and Wages
Petroleum engineers have no right to complain about pay. The average petroleum engineer received $138,980 per year as of 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than half worked in oil and gas extraction, where they averaged full-time yearly incomes of $150,890. Petroleum engineers in mining support averaged $111,400 per year, while those in petroleum and coal manufacturing and architectural and engineering services averaged more than $130,000 per year. As a petroleum engineer, you'll have a good chance of becoming a Texan. More than half of the jobs are in the Lone Star State, where annual wages averaged $147,070 in 2011.
- The University of Texas at Austin: What is Petroleum Engineering
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: How to Become a Petroleum Engineer
- The University of Texas at Austin: Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering -- Graduate Requirements
- Society of Petroleum Engineers: Petroleum Engineer Certification
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: What Petroleum Engineers Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 -- Petroleum Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Petroleum Engineers -- Job Outlook
- The University of Texas at Austin: Petroleum Engineering -- 2012-2014 Catalog