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Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0gVbw2Ynwo.
Quick Facts: Petroleum Engineers
2021 Median Pay $130,850 per year
$62.91 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2021 22,800
Job Outlook, 2021-31 8% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2021-31 1,900

What Petroleum Engineers Do

Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface.

Work Environment

Petroleum engineers generally work in offices or at drilling and well sites. Travel is frequently required to visit these sites or to meet with other engineers, oilfield workers, and customers.

How to Become a Petroleum Engineer

Petroleum engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering or a related field, such as mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering. Cooperative-education programs, in which students gain practical experience while earning academic credit, may be beneficial.

Pay

The median annual wage for petroleum engineers was $130,850 in May 2021.

Job Outlook

Employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 1,700 openings for petroleum engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for petroleum engineers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of petroleum engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about petroleum engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Petroleum Engineers Do About this section

Petroleum engineers
Petroleum engineers help find oil and gas for the country’s energy needs.

Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

Duties

Petroleum engineers typically do the following:

  • Design equipment to extract oil and gas from onshore and offshore reserves deep underground
  • Develop plans to drill in oil and gas fields, and then to recover the oil and gas
  • Develop ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve to force out more oil or gas
  • Make sure that oilfield equipment is installed, operated, and maintained properly
  • Evaluate the production of wells through surveys, testing, and analysis

Oil and gas deposits, or reservoirs, are located deep in rock formations underground. These reservoirs can be accessed only by drilling wells, either on land, or at sea from offshore oil rigs.

Once oil and gas are discovered, petroleum engineers work with geoscientists and other specialists to understand the geologic formation of the rock containing the reservoir. They then determine the drilling methods, design the drilling equipment, implement the drilling plan, and monitor operations.

The best techniques currently being used recover only a portion of the oil and gas in a reservoir, so petroleum engineers also research and develop new ways to recover more of the oil and gas. This additional recovery helps to lower the cost of drilling and production.

The following are examples of types of petroleum engineers:

Completions engineers decide the best way to finish building wells so that oil or gas will flow up from underground. They oversee work to complete the building of wells—a project that might involve the use of tubing, hydraulic fracturing, or pressure-control techniques.

Drilling engineers determine the best way to drill oil or gas wells, taking into account a number of factors, including cost. They also ensure that the drilling process is safe, efficient, and minimally disruptive to the environment.

Production engineers take over wells after drilling is completed. They typically monitor wells’ oil and gas production. If wells are not producing as much as expected, production engineers figure out ways to increase the amount being extracted.

Reservoir engineers estimate how much oil or gas can be recovered from underground deposits, known as reservoirs. They study reservoirs’ characteristics and determine which methods will get the most oil or gas out of the reservoirs. They also monitor operations to ensure that optimal levels of these resources are being recovered.

Work Environment About this section

Petroleum engineers
Petroleum engineers generally work in an office setting, but must sometimes work on site to monitor operations.

Petroleum engineers held about 22,800 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of petroleum engineers were as follows:

Oil and gas extraction 26%
Management of companies and enterprises 20
Support activities for mining 18
Engineering services 7
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 6

Petroleum engineers generally work in offices or at drilling and well sites. Travel is frequently required to visit these sites or to meet with other engineers, oilfield workers, and customers.

Large oil and gas companies maintain operations around the world; therefore, petroleum engineers sometimes work in other countries. Petroleum engineers also must be able to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including other types of engineers, scientists, and oil and gas field workers.

Work Schedules

Petroleum engineers typically work full time. Overtime may be necessary when traveling to and from drilling sites to help in their operation or respond to problems when they arise.

How to Become a Petroleum Engineer About this section

Petroleum engineers
Petroleum engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably in petroleum engineering.

Petroleum engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering or a related field, such as mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering. Cooperative-education programs, in which students gain practical experience while earning academic credit, may be beneficial.

Education

High school students interested in studying petroleum engineering may benefit from taking classes in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.

College students typically pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Bachelor’s degree engineering programs typically take 4 years and include academic, laboratory, and field work in areas such as engineering principles, geology, and thermodynamics. Some colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.

Colleges and universities may offer 5-year engineering programs that lead to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a master's degree. A graduate degree also allows an engineer to work as an instructor at some universities or in research and development.

Employers may prefer candidates who completed their studies in an engineering program accredited by a professional association such as ABET.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Petroleum engineers must be able to compile and make sense of large amounts of technical information and data in order to ensure that facilities operate safely and effectively.

Creativity. Because each new drill site is unique and therefore presents new challenges, petroleum engineers must be able to come up with creative designs to extract oil and gas.

Interpersonal skills. Petroleum engineers must work with others on projects that require highly complex machinery, equipment, and infrastructure. Communicating and working well with other engineers and oil and gas workers is crucial to ensuring that projects meet customer needs and run safely and efficiently.

Math skills. Petroleum engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Identifying problems in drilling plans is critical for petroleum engineers because these problems can be costly. Petroleum engineers must be careful not to overlook any potential issues and must quickly address those which do occur.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as a petroleum engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).

Several states require engineers to take continuing education courses in order to keep their licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states if the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. The Society of Petroleum Engineers offers certification. To be certified, petroleum engineers must be members of the Society, pass an exam, and meet other qualifications.

Advancement

Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers also may receive formal training. As engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects on which they have greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, petroleum engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some become engineering managers or move into other managerial positions. For more information, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.

Petroleum engineers also may go into sales and use their engineering background to inform the discussion of a product’s technical aspects with potential buyers and to help in product planning, installation, and use. For more information, see the profile on sales engineers.

Pay About this section

Petroleum Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Petroleum engineers

$130,850

Engineers

$99,040

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for petroleum engineers was $130,850 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $78,390, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for petroleum engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Management of companies and enterprises $165,480
Oil and gas extraction 141,570
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 128,740
Engineering services 127,240
Support activities for mining 123,820

Petroleum engineers typically work full time. Overtime may be necessary when traveling to and from drilling and well sites to help in their operation or respond to problems when they arise.

Job Outlook About this section

Petroleum Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Petroleum engineers

8%

Engineers

5%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Employment of petroleum engineers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 1,700 openings for petroleum engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Some of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession of 2020. Demand for petroleum engineers to facilitate oil and gas extraction at existing operations is expected; however, an increase in the use of renewable energy and weaker investment in fossil fuel production may limit job growth over the projections decade.

Employment projections data for petroleum engineers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Petroleum engineers

17-2171 22,800 24,600 8 1,900 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OEWS data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of petroleum engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help on Entry-Level Education 2021 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Architectural and engineering managers Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities in architectural and engineering companies.

Bachelor's degree $152,350
Geoscientists Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth.

Bachelor's degree $83,680
Industrial engineers Industrial Engineers

Industrial engineers devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.

Bachelor's degree $95,300
Mechanical engineers Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices.

Bachelor's degree $95,300
Civil engineers Civil Engineers

Civil engineers design, build, and supervise infrastructure projects and systems. 

Bachelor's degree $88,050
Chemical engineers Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the use of fuel, drugs, food, and many other products.

Bachelor's degree $105,550
Mining and geological engineers Mining and Geological Engineers

Mining and geological engineers design mines to safely and efficiently remove minerals for use in manufacturing and utilities.

Bachelor's degree $97,090
Geological and petroleum technicians Geological and Hydrologic Technicians

Geological and hydrologic technicians support scientists and engineers in exploring, extracting, and monitoring natural resources.

Associate's degree $50,080

Contacts for More Information About this section

For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For information about the Professional Engineer license, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For information about certification, visit

Society of Petroleum Engineers

O*NET

Petroleum Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Petroleum Engineers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/petroleum-engineers.htm (visited October 29, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Thursday, September 8, 2022

What They Do

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Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

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Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

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Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2021

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2021, which is the base year of the 2021-31 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2021-31

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031. The average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent.

Employment Change, 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.