Petroleum isn’t only used as fuel for cars, you know – it’s also refined and processed to create other important chemicals and products, such as plastics, asphalt and pharmaceuticals. Petroleum engineers are the clever people who allow us to harness the power of this marvellous fossil fuel without damaging the environment.
Petroleum engineers tend to specialise in one particular area. Some get involved at the exploration stage, using their analytical skills and knowledge of geology and geophysics to evaluate potential petroleum reserves.
Other petroleum engineers focus their efforts on the drilling side of things, working alongside drilling engineers and mudloggers to make sure drilling operations are carried out safely and cost-effectively.
These guys can also specialise in locating subsurface petroleum reservoirs, developing specialist hydrocarbon recovery methods and then implementing them to maximise production levels.
Finally, many petroleum engineers get involved at the production stage, overseeing the journey from the reservoir to the well before managing the actual refining process.
As well as designing and developing complex engineering solutions, such as artificial lift systems and storage tanks, petroleum engineers are responsible for maintaining the equipment which is used.
Don’t be fooled: this lot don’t just wade in, all guns blazing, drilling here, there and everywhere. Indeed, planning is seriously important at every stage of the petroleum recovery process.
Petroleum engineers are in charge of drawing up detailed plans for each operational stage. They’re also responsible for making important decisions about the equipment and materials which need to be procured before engineering solutions can be implemented.
Finally, petroleum engineers are responsible for monitoring exploration, drilling and production operations using complex computer software and state-of-the art equipment, such as remote sensing devices.
At senior level, petroleum engineers have team management responsibilities and act as the main point of contact for commercial managers and stakeholders, reporting on everything from project progress to compliance with health and safety regulations.
Salary & benefits
Petroleum engineering can be a fairly lucrative industry. Indeed, entry-level salaries often range between £28,000 and £38,000.
As you gain more experience, you could earn anywhere between £50,000 and £100,000 a year. Some freelance petroleum engineers charge more than a grand a day for their services.
When you’re on duty, you will most likely be required to work seven days a week. Shifts of 12 hours or longer are common. The intense nature of this work, however, is offset by extended periods of leave. For instance, you might be required to work offshore on a rig for two or three weeks, but then you will be given a fortnight off back on dry land.
Senior engineers, who predominantly tend to work onshore, are more likely to enjoy a standard nine-to-five work schedule.
Understandably, international travel is a common occurrence in this line of work.
An undergraduate or postgraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as physics, chemical engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, maths, aeronautical engineering or petroleum engineering, is essential for entry into this line of work.
It should be noted that petroleum engineering courses are only offered by a small number of universities, so make sure you check out our Courses section for more details.
Petroleum engineering is an incredibly competitive field. Therefore, although it’s not essential, it may be a good idea to complete a relevant postgraduate qualification to help you stand out from the crowd. Gaining work experience in the field is also a sure-fire way of impressing potential employers.
Training & progression
Many petroleum engineers start their careers with major oil companies on graduate training programmes. These tend to last around two or three years and combine ‘on-the-job’ training with in-house training courses.
Career progression can be helped greatly by attaining chartered engineer status and becoming a member of a professional body, such as the Institute of Materials, Mineral and Mining.
As you progress through your career, you might decide to take on a senior technical role, where you’ll become an expert in a particular area of petroleum engineering.
Alternatively, you might decide to step into a more strategic role with managerial responsibilities. Freelance work is another option.