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Petroleum Engineer

Career Overview

Petroleum engineers assist in locating potential new oilfields to develop. Once a likely site is found, the petroleum engineer works with geologists to determine the nature of the petroleum source; its size, what extraction techniques will be required, and any potential environmental issues that might develop. Most oil and gas reserved require engineered methods of extraction; the raw material does not flow naturally to the service. Petroleum engineers select an injection process that may involve steam, water, chemicals or gasses to force the oil to the surface. They may also devise drilling options that open larger areas of the resource to a single well.


Petroleum engineers usually have a bachelor's degree in engineering when they apply for work in the industry. Course work will be heavy in the fields of mathematics and geology. Some petroleum engineers undertake additional studies to become conversant with the difficulties associated with offshore drilling.


There were 17,000 petroleum engineers employed in 2006, according to Labor Department data. Some worked in the field, but many worked in laboratories or offices, examining raw data provided by on-site geologists, hydrologists and other specialists.

Job Outlook

Job growth is projected to be slow in this field, compared with the average for job growth overall. However retirements should provide some new openings; as will the fact that work for petroleum engineers can be on any of the continents. Their work on U.S. petroleum production sites will be limited do devising new ways to extract remaining pockets of oil from reservoirs that have been pumped for decades.


Lowest 10% $57,820

Median Salary $108,020

Highest 25% $148,700

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

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