What Is Petroleum Engineering?

As a petroleum engineer, your skills will cover a lot of territory above ground, underground, and even in the ocean. Read on to learn more about what you can do with a career in petroleum engineering. Schools offering Nuclear Engineering degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Field Defined

Petroleum engineering is the study of how to locate and extract energy resources, such as oil and natural gas, from the earth. If you are interested in this field, you can become a petroleum engineer.

Important Facts About Petroleum Engineering

Professional Certification Available by joining and passing an exam given by the Society of Petroleum Engineers
Key Skills Analytical and math skills
Work Environment Offices or research laboratories and drilling sites
Similar Occupations Aerospace engineer, geoscientist, industrial engineer, materials engineer


One of the bonuses of becoming an engineer of any sort is that you'll have an excellent chance of starting your career with a bachelor's degree. To earn your bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering, you'll need strong math and science skills, along with creative problem-solving abilities. You'll study things like fluid dynamics, the properties of raw petroleum, and geology. Some of the courses that will prepare you for this career include:

  • Understanding reservoir characteristics
  • Land and offshore drilling methods
  • Well design
  • Natural gas extraction
  • Petroleum and economics


Before you can start a career as a petroleum engineer, you may need to obtain a professional engineer (PE) license from your state. You'll do this by meeting your state's education and experience qualifications; you'll also need to take two exams offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (www.ncees.org). The exam for petroleum engineers covers reservoir engineering, drilling engineering, and production engineering.

Job Duties

Much of what you'll do as a petroleum engineer deals with safe extraction techniques; this includes designing drills for drilling oil wells. You'll also have the opportunity to design new methods of extracting petroleum using new technologies, like subsurface combustion and chemically treated water injection. Estimating the amount of oil you can extract from a well may also be part of your job.

Employment and Salary

Petroleum engineers were expected to see a 15% employment increase from 2016-2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). You may need to figure currency exchange rates while you're job hunting because petroleum engineers have opportunities for employment all over the world.

The BLS reported that the median annual salary for petroleum engineers in the U.S. was $137,170 in May 2018. The same report showed that your greatest employment opportunities as a petroleum engineer were in gas and oil extraction and mining support. In the U.S., Texas and California were among the top employers for this field. If you want to follow the money, you may want to set your eyes on a job in either Indiana or New Jersey.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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