Petroleum Engineer: Job Description & Career Info

Mar 29, 2019

Read on to see what petroleum engineers do. Get the details about required education and training, job prospects, and earning potential to see if this career is a good fit for you.

Career Definition for a Petroleum Engineer

Petroleum engineers help locate natural reservoirs of petroleum deposits. They work with teams of specialists to develop more effective, cost-efficient methods of petroleum recovery through the application of principles from chemistry, mathematics, engineering, and geology. There are three types of petroleum engineers who differ only by the stage of the drilling process that they are involved in. Reservoir engineers monitor the geological formation for the best strategic method of extraction. Drilling engineers generate computer-simulated models of the drilling formation and equipment to ensure they use the best tools for the most effective method of extraction. Production engineers manage the interface between drilling and extraction by managing machinery and production costs.

Education Bachelor's degree in a relevant engineering field
Job Skills Accountability, knowledge of techniques and extraction procedures, research skills
Median Pay (May 2017)* $132,280
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 15%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Required Education

Petroleum engineers require a bachelor's degree in a relevant engineering field that's accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). The licensing procedures involve an extensive examination, and before new graduates can apply for their engineering licenses, they need to gain at least four years of relevant work experience and must pass a state-required examination. Step one of the licensing process involves passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (FE), after which engineers receive a title of Engineers in Training (EIT). Finally, the successful completion of the second exam on the Principles and Practice of Engineering results in the Professional Engineer license (PE).

Required Skills

Petroleum engineers are held accountable for operations that cost millions of dollars. They must be specialists in their trade with a creative knowledge of techniques and extraction procedures for petroleum. Since most oil deposits in the United States have been discovered, petroleum engineers will face more challenges in researching new methods for extracting petroleum from existing sources.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,, the states of Oklahoma, California, Texas, Colorado, and Louisiana employ the majority of petroleum engineers. Employment opportunities for petroleum engineers are projected to increase by 15% in the U.S. between 2016 and 2026. The median annual salary for petroleum engineers was $132,280 in May 2017, as reported by the BLS.

Alternate Career Options

Individuals with a passion for science and engineering may also consider the following similar career options:


Geoscientists study the earth; they explore what it's made of and how it works through field work and lab research. Areas of specialization include paleontology, seismology, petroleum geology, oceanography, and geochemistry, among others. Entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree in geoscience, and a graduate degree is required for advancement. When geoscientists serve the public, they may need to earn a state license. The BLS reports that jobs in geoscience are expected to grow 14% from 2016-2026, due in part to the demand for energy. The BLS also reports that geoscientists earned median pay of $89,850 in 2017 and that the greatest number of geoscience jobs were located in Texas, California, and Colorado.

Industrial Engineer

Industrial engineers examine all aspects of production methods - from management to mechanical - with an eye toward increasing efficiency. Industrial engineers may focus on concerns like quality assurance, logistics, and project management. A minimum of a bachelor's degree in the field and relevant experience (such as through a college co-op assignment) is usually required for entry-level employment. Professional licensing isn't required but may be preferred; engineers with a degree from an ABET-accredited program take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, earn additional work experience, and then take the Professional Engineering (PE) exam for full licensure. The BLS estimates that jobs for industrial engineers will increase 10% from 2016-2026 and that industrial engineering jobs paid a median salary of $85,880 in 2017. The BLS reports that the greatest number of industrial engineering jobs were located in Michigan, California, and Texas in 2017.

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