How to Become a Drilling Engineer: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a drilling engineer. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in drilling engineering.

Should I Become a Drilling Engineer?

Drilling engineers plan and manage oil-rig drilling operations for petrochemical companies. Among other job duties, they design and maintain drilling machinery and ensure that oil extraction processes are safe and efficient. Travel is sometimes required at short notice, and these engineers may work rotating shifts of 84 hours in length. The following table outlines the career requirements for drilling engineers:

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Petroleum engineering or a closely related major
Licensing/Certification Licensing required in all states for those who offer services to public; voluntary certification available
Experience 5-7 years of experience in drilling operations
Key Skills Excellent written and oral communication skills, ability to work within a team, analytical and problem-solving skills, ingenuity, knowledge of geographical/scientific analysis, project management and financial analysis software, understanding of oil-rig operations and drilling equipment programs, strong mathematical and scientific knowledge
Salary $98,626 per year (Median salary from July 2015 for drilling engineers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale.com, December 2012 online job postings, O*Net Online

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Students can pursue a degree in petroleum engineering, which covers the principles of mathematics, science and engineering as they relate to the drilling, production and transport of oil. Courses may include mechanics, thermodynamics, geostatistics, well testing and ethics in engineering. In addition to classroom work, petroleum engineering programs often provide laboratory or project experience.

Although not required for most positions, prospective drilling engineers may choose to also earn a master's degree in petroleum engineering. These programs typically last two years and focus on industrial applications of knowledge, such as reservoir engineering and hydro-geology. Some schools also offer dual programs where students can earn both a bachelor's and master's degree in five years of study.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Students can enter the field through an internship in drilling engineering or the broader field of petroleum engineering. Duties may include studying the financial feasibility of drilling projects, recommending improvements to current technology and finding solutions to engineering challenges. Some interns may conduct field work and assist with daily oil rig operations.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Most engineers begin their careers under the supervision of experienced colleagues. They may be involved in research or data gathering before attaining greater autonomy and responsibility. As engineers grow their knowledge, they can move on to designing oil rigs, developing solutions for existing issues and traveling to oversee the drilling process.

Success Tip:

  • Earn certification. The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) offers voluntary certification in the field. Candidates are required to have an undergraduate engineering degree, four years of work experience and a track record of ethical job performance. Qualified applicants must pass a written exam and meet the conditions of SPE membership, including continuing education.

Step 3: Get Licensed

According to the BLS, all petroleum engineers must be licensed by the state they work in if they offer their services to the public. Becoming licensed usually requires an accredited bachelor's degree in the field, several years of experience and passing the Fundamentals of Engineering and Professional Engineering exams. Engineers who have acquired the Professional Engineer designation must meet continuing education requirements in order to keep their license. Maintaining licensure can create avenues for career advancement and future job opportunities.

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