How to Become a Petroleum Engineer
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.
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.
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.
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.