How To Become a Petroleum Engineer (With FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Petroleum engineers design and develop solutions for extracting oil and gas from deep below the Earth's crust. They usually work in new and old oil fields, both onshore and offshore. Knowing what a petroleum engineer does and the steps to become one can help determine whether this is the right career path for you. In this article, we discuss how to become a petroleum engineer, define the role and answer frequently asked questions about this position.

What is a petroleum engineer?

A petroleum engineer is a professional who helps oil companies explore and extract petroleum deposits and natural gas from underground rock formations or the seabed. They examine geological sites and data to determine which type of drilling machines and methods will ensure cost-effective extraction. Most petroleum engineers work for oil and gas production companies, oil industry contractors and the government. Others work as consultants in the industry.

Some of the key tasks and responsibilities of a petroleum engineer include:

  • Conduct preliminary surveys of petroleum and gas deposits in conjunction with geologists and prospectors

  • Decide what type of derrick or rig equipment to use for oil or gas extraction

  • Advise on engineering operations, safety guidelines and environmental conditions

  • Devise methods of controlling the flow of natural gas and oil from wells

  • Determine the best way of developing gas and oil reserves to maximise extraction and revenue

  • Determine the gases or liquids that exist in an oil well, the possible recovery rate and the temperatures and pressure of extraction

  • Assist prospectors in estimating the viability of oil and gas reserves by overseeing borehole tests

  • Plan the storage and transportation of oil and gas from boreholes and the seabed

Related: What Is a Civil Engineer and How To Become One

How to become a petroleum engineer

The following steps can help you become a petroleum engineer:

1. Obtain a relevant degree

Petroleum engineers require a bachelor's degree at minimum, such as a Bachelor of Engineering with a major in petroleum engineering. Alternatively, you can study a related subject such as mechanical, civil or chemical engineering. Students typically require a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (SSCE) and passes in prerequisite subjects, including mathematics, physics and chemistry, to enrol in these courses. You will need to confirm entry requirements and subject prerequisites with your chosen institution.

Generally, the first two years provide a foundation of knowledge on the subject, whereas the final two years may cover specialised areas such as rock formations, fluid mechanics, drilling and well engineering. A university with strong partnerships in research, training and employment can lay a solid foundation for your petroleum engineering career.

2. Get relevant work experience

Next, you can look for jobs to develop your skills and earn experience to add to your resume. To gain on-the-job experience, you can find internship opportunities or entry-level jobs such as support or technical assistant roles in petroleum engineering companies. These jobs may equip you with practical knowledge to perform the work of a petroleum engineer.

Aspiring engineers usually work under the direction and supervision of senior petroleum engineers during internships at large oil firms. Over time, they are expected to gain the knowledge and experience to tackle challenging projects, where they have greater independence in making decisions, developing designs and solving problems.

3. Gain professional registration

Graduates are encouraged to apply for registration on the National Professional Engineers Register (NPER) as members of Engineers Australia. Student membership is available while studying and graduate membership on completion of the degree. Eligibility for membership is dependant on completion of an accredited or recognised engineering qualification. Continuing professional development and relevant work experience lead to higher levels of membership, including the opportunity to become a Chartered Engineer, recognised by the international profession as meeting certain standards. Members are expected to abide by the Engineers Australia Code of Ethics, which sets the standards for all professional engineers.

4. Apply for graduate petroleum engineer jobs

Create a petroleum engineer resume and start applying for petroleum engineer graduate jobs. Check your industry association and established job boards for any petroleum engineering vacancy.

After working for a year or two with a consultancy or oil company, you may advance to a lead engineer or a supervisor. Some engineers quickly get into managerial positions, where they oversee oil exploration and extraction work.

5. Earn professional recognition

Aim to become a Chartered Engineer within Engineers Australia, and also gain certification from the Society of Petroleum Engineers, which is the international professional organisation. Obtaining the globally recognised petroleum engineering certification makes you attractive to employers. It also demonstrates your commitment to pursue excellence and growth in your career as a petroleum engineer.

Related: How To Become A Structural Engineer

Frequently asked questions about petroleum engineering jobs

Below are answers to common questions about the role of a petroleum engineer:

What skills do petroleum engineers require?

Petroleum engineering requires a combination of strong technical skills and a solutions-oriented mindset. You can acquire these skills while completing an internship or working in a junior role. Below are the major skills that aspiring petroleum engineers need to perform their duties effectively:

  • Analytical skills: Petroleum engineers usually compile and work with extensive sets of raw data and other technical information. They process the data they collect in the field and draw meaningful conclusions.

  • Creativity: Each new prospective well or drilling site has its unique features and challenges. The petroleum engineer finds creative ways to extract the oil and gas deposits underground.

  • Interpersonal skills: A typical workday for engineers involves working with geophysicists, geologists and technicians, among other stakeholders. Working together and communicating properly with other personnel is crucial for oil and gas exploration and extraction projects.

  • Problem-solving skills: A petroleum engineer encounters problems that require well-thought-out solutions. They think about their drilling plans and find ways of overcoming potential issues that might impede the oil extraction process.

  • Math skills: The ability to perform calculations correctly is another important skill for this role. Petroleum engineers use calculus and other applied mathematics concepts to design, analyse and troubleshoot oil wells and pipelines.

Related: 12 Key Engineer Skills for Your Resume

How many years does it take to become a petroleum engineer?

It takes at least five years to become a petroleum engineer. Most university degrees take four years, and then work experience is required. Engineers Australia offers an 18-month graduate program for those entering the workforce. The amount of time it takes to become a petroleum engineer may vary depending on your qualifications and background. Chemical or mechanical engineers might take a shorter time to switch to petroleum engineering because of their background.

What is the salary for a petroleum engineer?

The average salary of a petroleum engineer is $129,516 per year, depending on skill set, experience and educational background. Most jobs usually have higher salaries than the national average. Those in management and engineering services earn more than their counterparts in oil and gas extraction and petroleum product manufacturing.

Related: 10 Highest Paying Engineering Jobs

What qualifications do you need to become a petroleum engineer?

To work as a petroleum engineer, you need a mix of academic qualifications, technical job skills and some work experience. Prospective engineers usually have a technical and engineering background and a strong aptitude for design and computing. Employers also value candidates with analytical minds, strong problem-solving skills and excellent communication skills. Practicality and creativity are other invaluable skills for anyone getting into petroleum engineering.

Is it hard to become a petroleum engineer?

Petroleum engineering requires discipline, a strong work ethic and a passion for the sciences and mathematics. The fundamentals and prerequisites of a petroleum engineering degree are the same as other engineering disciplines and require a thorough understanding of applied mathematics and physics, the main difference being the type of problems concepts are applied to. You can complete your education and training and start working as a petroleum engineer with dedication and hard work.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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