Petroleum engineer: job description

Last updated: 27 Feb 2024, 15:13

Petroleum engineers assess potential locations, quantities and quality of oil and gas deposits, and plan, manage and optimise extraction.

Oil refinery against blue sky: petroleum engineer job description

What does a petroleum engineer do? Graduate salaries | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Petroleum engineers are responsible for the safe extraction of hydrocarbon deposits, such as oil and natural gas. This involves the planning and construction of boreholes (narrow holes drilled into the ground, used to locate resources) and oil wells (used to extract resources).

Typical duties include:

  • analysing geological data
  • interpreting well-logging results (records of the geological formations located by drilling boreholes) to ascertain resource potential
  • designing methods of extracting oil and gas safely and efficiently using specialist computer applications and mathematical models
  • ascertaining extraction risks, such as an area’s potential for earthquakes
  • supervising extraction sites
  • selecting and maintaining equipment
  • monitoring and evaluating the performance of extraction sites.
  • managing projects and keeping accurate records of problems and progress
  • liaising with and advising managerial and technical staff, including geologists and contractors

Travel, both within the UK and abroad, is common within the profession and certain roles will require frequent travel to offshore facilities. You’re likely to work shifts in these locations as they operate 24 hours a day, and you’ll have to stay away from home for up to two weeks at a time.

Technology has reduced some of the need for travel, but some on-site work is still needed.

Graduate salaries

Salaries for graduate petroleum engineers tend to fall between £25,000 and £48,000, according to job comparison site Glassdoor. Salaries can be very generous as they are often enhanced by large offshore and overseas bonuses.

Your salary will rise as you build experience, especially if you achieve chartership.

Typical employers of petroleum engineers

  • Oil and gas companies.
  • Oilfield services companies (organisations that provide the services needed to build and maintain oil and gas wells.

With experience, you could work as a self-employed consultant.

Jobs are advertised via careers services and university departments. You’ll also find them advertised on specialist jobs boards such as the Oil and Gas Journal and

Qualifications and training required

To become a petroleum engineer, you will need a degree in a relevant subject such as petroleum, mechanical or chemical engineering. Some employers will ask for a postgraduate qualification too.

Work experience will help your job application stand out. If your degree does not include a placement year, look for internships, vacation placements and opportunities to work in junior positions for hydrocarbons companies. Take a look at our list of engineering employers who offer industrial placements and summer internships.

Achieving chartered (CEng) status with the Engineering Council can help to demonstrate your professionalism and commitment to your field. To become chartered, you will need an accredited bachelors degree in engineering or technology, plus an appropriate masters degree (MEng) or doctorate (EngD) accredited by a professional engineering institution such as the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3). You will also be eligible with an integrated MSc.

Key skills for petroleum engineers

Employers in this sector will be seeking:

  • strong technical skills
  • analytical skills
  • teamworking skills
  • the ability to solve complex problems
  • the ability to work under pressure
  • project management skills.

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