Banking on Black Gold

Solar panels, electric vehicles, windmill power―with so much in the news about alternative energy sources, you may think that the future for petroleum engineers is limited. But, in fact, those in this career are doing quite well, with a median salary over $100,000 and above-average projected job growth in the next decade. To become a petroleum engineer, you need to get a bachelor's degree, obtain experience in the field and do well on your licensing exams.

Job Description

Petroleum engineers help locate natural reservoirs of petroleum deposits and figure out optimal ways to extract oil and gas from them. Petroleum is used for both the oil to heat homes and for the gasoline required to drive most vehicles. Petroleum engineers often work to identify methods to extract additional oil from deposits, as well as to ensure the safe installation, operation and maintenance of oil field equipment and systems.

These professionals may also be charged with these responsibilities:

  • Designing equipment to extract oil and gas from offshore reserves
  • Pulling together detailed plans for drilling into petroleum reserves
  • Developing methods for injecting water or steam into an oil reserve to produce more oil or gas
  • Surveying, testing and analyzing well production
  • Verifying that equipment in oil fields is maintained properly

Educational Requirements

You'll have to get a bachelor's degree to become a petroleum engineer. Most candidates earn a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering, but you are also often able to get a position with a degree in mechanical, civil or chemical engineering or other types of engineering accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. College programs in which you can earn academic credit and, at the same time, get job experience in the industry are also useful in being selected for a position.

You'll also need to obtain a license before you work in this profession in most states. Licensure involves examinations following at least four years of relevant work experience. The initial licensing exam is the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, followed by the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, which results in the Professional Engineer license.

The median annual wage for petroleum engineers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $128,230. Median means that half of all petroleum engineers earn more than this, and half earn less. No studies suggest that those with additional schooling, such as an advanced degree, earn a significantly larger salary in this career.

Relevant Industries

Petroleum engineers hold about 33,700 jobs in this country. Most work in oil and gas extraction. Others work in industries that offer support activities for mining, management, petroleum and coal products manufacturing and engineering services. Large oil and gas companies have operations around the world, so it's possible for a petroleum engineer to be based in a foreign country.

Years of Experience

According to PayScale, the average salary in the United States for a petroleum engineer is $104,000, with salaries ranging from $60,504 to $168,578. Those just entering the profession can expect a salary that's 7 percent under the average amount, while those with some years of experience may receive 15 percent more. Those with a decade or two of experience can see a salary 34 percent higher, while engineers with three decades or more of experience may receive wages 70 percent higher than average.

Job Growth Trend

The job outlook for petroleum engineers over the next decade is excellent. Employment of petroleum engineers is expected to grow 15 percent over 10 years, much faster than the average for all occupations. Higher oil prices spur employment growth by causing oil and gas companies to increase investments in new facilities and expand production operations and exploration.

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