Petroleum engineers are among the highest paid engineers in all disciplines, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These professionals design equipment and develop ways to extract oil and gas from deep in the earth. They work with other professionals, such as geologists and drilling operators, to determine the best drilling methods to extract oil and gas, and they design equipment based on those requirements. Petroleum engineers are required to have a bachelor’s degree, but employment opportunities can increase with additional credentials.
Employers generally require at least a bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline. Many educational institutions offer programs accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology in petroleum engineering. Some programs offer a five-year educational program leading to a master’s degree in petroleum engineering. Coursework includes studies in advanced mathematics such as calculus, algebra and trigonometry, sciences such as biology and chemistry, and computer-aided design. Programs also offer hands-on field work.
Petroleum engineers should have natural abilities to make them successful. Personal attributes include strong mathematics and analytical skills to design equipment and solve problems in drilling. Creativity is also essential for the job, because petroleum engineers design different types of equipment to extract oil and gas in different environments. Team work and communication skills are also required for the job, because petroleum engineers work with a variety of other professionals. They must also be prepared to travel for long periods of time to work at drilling sites and oversee drilling operations.
Although not required, credentials can increase job opportunities for petroleum engineers. The Society of Petroleum Engineers offers membership with its association and certification. Obtaining the professional engineer license can also increase job opportunities and earn higher wages. Obtaining a professional engineer license requires passing two exams and about four years of professional engineering experience.
Job Outlook and Salary
Petroleum engineers can expect to see the number of jobs grow by 17 percent through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Part of the job growth is based on estimates that many petroleum engineers will retire in that timeframe. The complexity of drilling operations will require more petroleum engineers to work on-site. The average salary for petroleum engineers was $138,980 per year, according to the Bureau. Salaries ranged from $69,850 to over $187,000 per year, including the Bureau’s 10th through 90th percentiles.
2016 Salary Information for Petroleum Engineers
Petroleum engineers earned a median annual salary of $128,220 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, petroleum engineers earned a 25th percentile salary of $97,430, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $179,450, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 33,700 people were employed in the U.S. as petroleum engineers.