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What does a Petroleum Engineer do?

According to the online news source, Newser, "To Rake in the Dough, Major in Petroleum Engineering." The article points out that petroleum engineers can expect to make $4.8 million over the course of a 40-year career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) concurs that the career can offer high salaries.

If you are interested in digging up gas and oil for a living, there is more great news: the BLS projects 18 percent job growth for petroleum engineers. Job growth, in fact, is expected to be greater than the number of petroleum engineering graduates.

Excellent pay and excellent job prospects can make for an excellent career, right? But what, exactly, does a petroleum engineer do?

The work of petroleum engineers

Petroleum engineers search high and low (okay, mostly low) for oil- or gas-filled reservoirs. Once the jackpot location is found, the job of the petroleum engineer is varied and might include any of the following tasks:
  • Coordinating with geologists to determine the rocks' geological formation and properties
  • Determining drilling method, and then monitoring drilling and production
  • Designing equipment and processes (this is done before drilling, too)
  • Using computer models to simulate reservoir performance
Petroleum engineers are continually perfecting their oil- and gas-recovery techniques. This means that not all work is done on the field. Some petroleum engineers spend some or even most of their time in offices, researching and developing new technologies. Some current recovery techniques include injecting oil reservoirs with water, chemicals, gases or steam, to force out more of the oil, and operating computer-controlled drilling.

Travels of petroleum engineers

Many petroleum engineers travel extensively for their jobs. Oil companies often have offices and sites in multiple countries and transfers are common. Some petroleum engineers spend most of their time in the field; others work in offices. For instance, consultants usually spend most of their time in offices. To consult successfully, though, it is usually required to spend some years in the field, first. Higher degrees, such as masters' and PhDs, are common among consultants. Teaching college courses is also a possible career choice for those who pursue graduate degrees.

Petroleum engineering degrees

You will need a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering to be considered for entry-level jobs in the field. These degree programs waste no time to get you prepared for your career, and for good reason: you have a lot to learn in four years. Your program should include the following material:
  • Engineering-focused mathematics, chemistry and geology
  • Materials' mechanics
  • Reservoir fluids
  • Thermodynamics
  • Petroleum production systems
In addition to highly-focused coursework, your program might include one or more internship experiences, which will provide you first-hand experience in the field.

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