Petroleum engineer: job description

Petroleum engineers assess the potential location, quantity and quality of hydrocarbon deposits, and plan, manage and optimise extraction.

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They work to balance the environmental impact with maintaining an affordable supply of petroleum resources.

What does a petroleum engineer do? 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 responsibilities include:

  • analysing geological data
  • interpreting well-logging results (records of the geological formations penetrated by boreholes) to ascertain resource potential
  • ascertaining extraction risks, such as the area’s potential for earthquakes
  • planning and supervising extraction sites
  • selecting and maintaining equipment
  • monitoring and evaluating reservoir performance
  • preparing reports and maps
  • developing oilfield production programmes
  • liaising with and advising managerial and technical staff
  • using specialist computer applications and mathematical models to maximise production.

Travel, both within the UK and abroad, is common within the profession and certain roles will require frequent travel to offshore facilities. Salaries can be very generous – often enhanced by large offshore and overseas bonuses. To find out more about how much you could earn as an engineer, head to our engineering salary round-up .

Typical employers of petroleum engineers

Petroleum engineers work both on and off shore for oil and gas service/operating companies. Jobs are advertised online and in national newspapers and specialist publications such as TARGETjobs Engineering , Petroleum Review , Oil and Gas Journal , Offshore, Journal of Petroleum Technology and their respective websites. Careers services and recruitment agencies also occasionally advertise positions. You can also find help on finding and applying for jobs with smaller engineering companies here .

Speculative applications are essential and it is advisable to apply early during the first term of your final year. Useful publications include UK Offshore Oil and Gas Directory and Oil and Gas Company Directory .

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. A list of accredited courses is available on the Engineering Council’s website.

Relevant experience from vacation placements or by working in junior positions for a hydrocarbons company can be advantageous. 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. To find out more, take a look at our guide to chartership.

Key skills for petroleum engineers

  • strong technical skills
  • teamworking skills
  • problem-solving skills
  • the ability to work under pressure
  • drive and enthusiasm
  • numerical and analytical skills
  • IT skills
  • good health and fitness.

Flexibility is required for international work.

For more information, read our article on the skills engineering employers look for and then find out how you can prove you possess these competencies at engineering assessment centres .

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