Drilling engineers are responsible for planning and executing drilling operations to extract minerals, metal ores, oil and natural gas across a variety of terrains, on land and underwater. Typically, the job title ‘drilling engineer’ is used for engineering professionals in the oil and gas industries, while others are referred to as mining, materials or chemical engineers.
The main employers of drilling engineers tend to be large UK-based companies and multinational corporations engaged in the exploration, extraction and production of oil or gas. You can also find opportunities with engineering consultancies and onshore, offshore and mobile drilling contractors.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be responsible for assessing the suitability of new and existing well sites for optimised drilling operations; you’ll be collecting and analysing data relating to output, daily production and extraction; and you’ll be forecasting how long the oil or gas well will produce the targeted quantities of resources without any additional investment or infrastructure.
Furthermore, you’ll be tasked with calculating the cost of heavy machinery and the construction of rigs, platforms and other structures. Your budgetary responsibilities may also involve aspects of benefit analysis and procurement.
As well as closely monitoring day-to-day operations, such as drilling and extraction, against budgets, you’ll be preparing work schedules and comprehensive drilling plans to meet project objectives.
Moreover, you’ll be responsible for providing immediate and effective solutions for operational continuity, equipment malfunctions and other onsite problems.
In order to make sure everything goes according to plan, you’ll be working closely with other specialists and project partners, such as geologists and drilling contractors, in order to keep up-to-date on all developments that may have an impact on drilling activities.
Finally, you’ll be in charge of making sure that the work is completed within schedule and budget. Following this, you will be responsible for executing the appropriate procedures for well closure or abandonment once the project is complete, or if the initial evaluation of output is not met.
You’ll also be making sure that drilling operations comply with statutory and regulatory requirements, with respect to health and safety, emergency procedures and disaster recovery.
Salary & benefits
Current salaries for drilling engineers with less than ten years of experience are around £25,000 to £45,000 per annum, while senior professionals with more than ten years of experience can earn between £45,000 and £150,000 a year.
Salaries offered by multinational corporations, medium-sized domestic companies with overseas projects or companies that focus on onshore and offshore drilling operations in the North Sea tend to be higher.
Some organisations may also provide additional bonus payments, such as hazardous duty pay, working abroad allowances and overtime.
Salaries are also comparatively higher for personnel with advanced degrees. For instance, a candidate with a PhD may receive a higher salary than a candidate with an undergraduate degree.
You’ll normally be required to work long shifts since drilling is usually carried out on a 24/7 basis.
Flexibility with regards to travel or relocation to anywhere in the world is absolutely vital. When drilling engineers are working on offshore rigs, they will sleep, eat and spend their free time on the rig too. Accommodation and meals are provided though, so don’t worry!
To enter this profession, you’ll need a strong degree (BEng or MEng) in a subject such as civil engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, mineral engineering, geology or earth sciences (BSc or MSc).
Most major employers of drilling engineers recruit fresh talent through graduate schemes; getting a 2:1 or above is, therefore, usually essential.
Since overseas placements are common, knowledge of a second foreign language may often be preferred. It’s also a good idea to get prior work experience through vacation schemes or industrial placements.
Training & progression
Initial training and development is primarily facilitated through graduate development schemes, which involve:
- Gaining hands-on work experience through multiple rotations
- In-house training sessions
- Supported preparation for the completion of relevant professional qualifications that are administered by professional bodies, such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining.
Career progression is mainly driven by individual performance, professional expertise and attainment of professional qualifications.
Having the flexibility to move across domestic and overseas locations is also crucial in building a long-term and successful career in the drilling industry.
Alternative employment avenues include: freelance consulting, academic research and specialisation in a niche area of engineering, such as mechanical design.