Petroleum engineering is one of the fastest growing occupations in the nation. In response, some schools have made online degrees in this field available -- particularly for those seeking advancement.
Although a few institutions offer petroleum engineering bachelor's degree programs with online components, most distance learning options in this field lead to master's degrees. These graduate programs are offered through a number of four-year universities and colleges.
Program Information and Requirements
Online master's degree programs are usually geared to those students who hold an undergraduate degree in petroleum engineering or those who hold another engineering degree, but have worked in the petroleum industry in an engineering capacity. In general, anyone without a degree in petroleum engineering will be required to complete prerequisite courses on subjects such as petroleum engineering, formations, reservoir engineering and transport processes. The master's-level coursework generally takes around two years to complete, but this varies based on unique program requirements and students' enrollment status.
Typically, coursework at the graduate level does not require any on-site requirements because students have already completed initial training in petroleum engineering as part of their undergraduate education. However, some schools could require students to complete their examinations in approved proctored settings in their area.
Distance learning students are able to complete their online coursework by logging on to a virtual classroom, which contains lectures, assignments, learning materials and communication tools. Some schools may hold live virtual classes that utilize video conferencing technology.
Distance learning graduate programs in this field are designed to have the same course requirements as those held on campus. Topics covered in an online master's program in petroleum engineering often include:
- Well testing
- Well completion
- Damage control
- Subsurface reservoirs
- Collaborative oilfield systems
- Enhanced oil recovery
- Simulation of subsurface flow
While campus-based programs may require a thesis, online petroleum engineering master's programs are more likely to utilize a non-thesis course of study. In such cases, students may be expected to complete a significant research project or report as their culminating experience.
Petroleum engineers work to improve oil well and gas well performance and production. They oversee the drilling operation and determine the need for improved tool designs and excavation techniques. As they complete their duties in oil and gas production, petroleum engineers work with geologists to locate and examine the source of the fuel reservoir. They also use computers to establish, develop and implement the most efficient methods to recover gas and oil from underground reservoirs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that the occupation opportunities for petroleum engineers will increase 10% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Demand for oil and gas production, coupled with the retirements of many engineers during the decade, contributes to this high level of job growth. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that these professionals earned an average of $149,590 a year.
Because of the increasing need for gas and oil in the world today, as well as a deep and growing concern for a healthy environment, lifelong education is a must for petroleum engineers. Over the course of a career, these professionals might advance from integrated multidisciplinary research and development teams to middle management and then upper-level management. Petroleum engineers must therefore stay current by attending seminars, reading industry periodicals and completing graduate courses or industry training courses.
Membership in the Society of Petroleum Engineers-International (SPE) is an excellent educational and career move. Upon meeting society criteria, which may include an examination, members can qualify to become certified. Although voluntary, the SPEC designation attests to an individual's level of education and commitment as a petroleum engineer.
The SPE offers numerous training courses in conjunction with society conferences at its Houston training facility or in cooperation with various accredited colleges throughout the country. Currently, the SPE offers four online courses that may be taken at the individual's convenience. The four courses cover these topics:
- Seismic amplitude in relation to hydrocarbon exploration
- Hydraulic fracturing and pressure analysis
- Reservoir characterization
- Wellbore stability
While there are a handful of bachelor's degree level programs in petroleum engineering available online, the majority of programs available result in a master's degree. These programs utilize the virtual classroom to emphasize topics such as well completion, well testing, subsurface hydraulics and oil recovery.