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What Does a Petroleum Engineer Do?

Petroleum engineers design and build systems, such as oil rigs, that are used to extract petroleum or natural gas from the earth or sea floor.
Beyond the application of mechanical engineering skills, many petroleum engineers are also involved with writing software that is used to operate oil drilling platforms.
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  • Written By: L.K. Blackburn
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2014
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A petroleum engineer is employed by an oil company to design, test, and implement methods to extract petroleum products from the earth and sea floor. These engineers are involved in locating the dig site, building the machines that perform the extraction, and overseeing the removal and processing of the petroleum itself. They work closely with geologists and other petroleum company team members to safely execute oil and gas extraction and refinement.

The development of tools, machines, and equipment used to extract petroleum products is part of the job description. Operating software used to control and run the machines is also frequently written with contributions by a petroleum engineer. On site, machines used to remove oil and gas are often operated by engineers themselves. Experienced engineers may oversee individuals and teams employed on a job site, and manage a job site's overall production.

Engineers develop methods to safely and efficiently extract as much oil and gas as possible while working to keep costs low. This typically includes a financial analysis to make sure the operation is profitable to incur the expenses of removing the crude materials, relative to the money earned from selling the refined products. A petroleum engineer uses methods of data organization and analysis to accomplish this task, and may present the research and report findings to company management to aid with the decision making process.

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Field work and extensive travel are both usually necessary for this profession, as much of the job may need to be completed on-site at remote oil and gas repositories that are located in many different regions and countries. Job requirements will vary depending on the company and individual position, and some work may be completed in an office or laboratory environment. Engineers also work in academia, teaching university classes and conducting research on new methods to locate and remove petroleum products.

Education requirements to become a petroleum engineer include earning an undergraduate engineering degree from a college or university. Some positions and companies may require additional education in the form of a master's degree or doctorate in petroleum engineering. It is important for engineers to have a strong background in geology, physics, mathematics, and computer programming. Career progression typically involves starting out working for a company building equipment and conducting field research, and then moving up to the location, operation, planning, and management of a job site.

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Discuss this Article

anon959286
Post 5

I don't think petroleum engineering field is going downhill at all. There might be fewer oil reserves in the world right now but the demand for fuel is constantly on the rise. If you are becoming a petroleum engineer, then you will be in good shape for a long time to come.

anon352862
Post 4

Will the future of a person working this job be safe and economically good?

pastanaga
Post 3

@KoiwiGal - I think it's more likely that we'll keep exploiting petroleum and just figure out ways to catch carbon so that we don't upset the weather too much.

And even if we aren't straight up burning it for fuel, most of our plastics are made from petroleum as well. I really don't think this is a career that's in any danger of going away.

KoiwiGal
Post 2

@Ana1234 - I don't think they are going to run out any time soon, no matter what the doomsayers are predicting. Now that they have managed to start extracting petroleum from fraking, it's opened up a lot more areas to exploit.

What I'm hoping is that we will turn to more and more cleaner energy sources, so that people won't need to dig up so much petroleum in the first place. Even if we don't run out soon, we are going to run out eventually. The world is finite and it's not like we're leaving a lot of forests around to create more petroleum. And climate change is such a dangerous thing. I'm really hoping that, in the coming decades, humanity will put its collective genius together and come up with different ways to solve its energy problems. No offence but I'd prefer more petroleum engineering jobs to go up in smoke.

Ana1234
Post 1

I'm kind of torn about the idea of being a petroleum engineer. On the one hand, it's an important job and it would make a lot of money. On the other hand it seems pretty obvious by now that we aren't really doing ourselves any favors by using oil for everything.

Partly I'm worried that it's morally wrong to study towards doing this kind of work, and partly I'm worried that the job itself won't even be around for much longer. If they run out of natural reserves, I imagine there will be fewer and fewer jobs in this field.

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