What does a Petroleum Engineer do?

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: January 5, 2022  •  7 min read  •  Engineer
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An exciting and high-paying career, learning what a petroleum engineer does might lead you to the right choice for you. This type of career will require good problem-solving skills, stamina, and physical ability. It can be a rather demanding career.

Before you decide to go down the path to becoming a petroleum engineer, it’s important to understand this career. What does a petroleum engineer do? Let’s look at the job duties to get a better idea.

What does a Petroleum Engineer do?

Job Duties of a Petroleum Engineer

The main job of a petroleum engineer is to design ways to extract oil and natural gas from the earth. They work to develop strategies and new equipment for this task. This type of career also includes identifying the right drills and materials for specific locations.

The main job duties of a petroleum engineer often include the following:

These job duties give a better picture of what a petroleum engineer does.

Different Types of Petroleum Engineers

What you do as a petroleum engineer will also depend on the type of engineer you become. There are a few different types including:

What a petroleum engineer does will greatly depend on which type they become. All four of these types have some of the same job duties with others specific to the specialty.

Steps to Become a Petroleum Engineer

If you decide this is a career you want to pursue, you will need a plan to become a petroleum engineer. It will take the right education and experience to land this type of job.

Step #1 – Complete High School

You will need to complete high school to move on to the next step in the process. Since you will need at least a bachelor’s degree, you want to make sure you do very well in high school. It’s also helpful to score high on the SAT or ACT to help you get into a top bachelor’s degree program.

During high school, it’s best to take as many AP courses in math and science as you can. Chemistry, biology, and calculus should be at the top of your list.

Step #2 – Earn your Degree

You will need a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering or engineering to go into this career. This is a four-year degree that will include lots of courses in geology and science.

Towards the end of your degree work, you will need to take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam. This is a six-hour computer-based exam with 110 total questions. you will need to pass this exam to earn the title of Engineer-in-Training.

Step #3 – Get a Graduate Degree

While it might not be required, a graduate degree can help set you apart from others entering the field. You can get a master’s degree at the same time as your bachelor’s degree with some university programs.

Step #4 – Get Experience

You will need to get four years of engineering experience under a licensed engineer. This is required if you want to become a petroleum engineer. Often, your college or university can help you find the right option to gain experience. You might also find opportunities through the National Society of Professional Engineers.

Step #5 – Become Licensed

You will need to get your engineering license, no matter what state you plan to work in. The requirements may be a bit different from one state to another. However, you will need a bachelor’s degree and you will need to pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam.

Step #6 – Get Certified

The Society of Petroleum Engineers offers certification for petroleum engineers. This certification will require you to meet specific educational qualifications. Once you meet the requirements, you can apply for your certification, which will need to be renewed every so often. If you gain 16 additional continuing education credits every year, you also gain membership into the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Petroleum Engineers

How much can I make as a petroleum engineer?

According to Indeed.com, the average base salary for a petroleum engineer is about $91K per year. Top employers will pay significantly higher salaries with many above $140K per year.

If you work in the right location, the average salary is also higher. Denver, Bakersfield, Anchorage, Oklahoma City, Jefferson, Midland, and Houston all pay above the national average.

What type of benefits do petroleum engineers get?

As a petroleum engineer, your benefits will depend on your employer. However, it’s common to enjoy benefits, such as health insurance, vision insurance, tuition reimbursement, relocation assistance, and loan forgiveness. Some may also gain access to an employee assistance program or an employee stock purchase plan. It might even be possible to get a flexible schedule.

Will I need to travel for this type of job?

Often, petroleum engineers will do some traveling to handle research or to work on development sites for digging wells. You might be assigned to an area for a specific amount of time, but you may not have to travel much, either. It will depend on your employer and your actual job.

Do I have to complete continuing education courses as a petroleum engineer?

In many states, you will need to complete continuing education courses to keep your license. Most states will require you to do this every few years, along with renewing your license.

Is this a growing career option?

Petroleum engineering is expected to grow by about 3% over the next ten years. This is a slower growth rate than the average of all professions. How oil prices change tends to impact the growth rate of this field significantly.

If you’re considering becoming a petroleum engineer, it’s important to understand what they do. This is a unique career with a high salary. However, you will need to go down a long education and experience road before you can become a petroleum engineer. Make sure you want to go into this career before you start down this path.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!