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Petroleum Engineers

At a Glance

  • Plan and supervise drilling of oil wells
  • May specialize in one area
  • Have good research and writing skills
  • Supervise technicians and drilling crews
  • May travel to remote areas
  • Have a bachelor's degree (many have a master's degree or higher)
  • May need a license

Career summary

Petroleum engineers plan and supervise the drilling of new oil wells. They also supervise well operation and maintenance.

Petroleum engineers determine where underground pools of oil may be located and how to remove the most oil for the lowest cost.

They analyze data about the oil including:

After their research, engineers determine where to locate the wells and what processes are required to force the oil to the surface. They calculate how much oil there is and how much it will cost to extract. They compare this amount to how much they can sell it for.

Drilling engineers

At the drill site, petroleum engineers supervise the drilling operations. Those who specialize in this part of the operation are called drilling engineers. They coordinate the activities of all the workers at the site and assign tasks to workers. They also:

Drilling engineers decide whether additional work must be done to increase the flow of gas. Once the gas is flowing at an acceptable rate, engineers plan and supervise the operation and maintenance of the well.

Petroleum engineering specialties

Some petroleum engineers work in refineries. They determine the best use for petroleum-based products.

Research engineers develop and modify the methods and equipment used in oil production. They run tests on equipment and analyze the results. Sales engineers sell equipment and provide technical services to oil companies and drilling contractors.

Related careers

This career is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to petroleum engineers.

Common work activities

Petroleum engineers perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, petroleum engineers:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Petroleum engineers frequently:

It is important for petroleum engineers to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for petroleum engineers to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Petroleum engineers need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a petroleum engineer, you typically need to:

Education after high school

You must have at least a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering. Many petroleum engineers have a master's or doctoral (PhD) degree. Some petroleum engineers receive their training in closely related programs, such as geophysics or geologic engineering.

Only a few four-year colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs in petroleum engineering. A smaller number of schools offer advanced degrees.

On-the-job training

New graduates work under the guidance of experienced engineers. You may work with an experienced engineer for up to a year.

You should consider participating in an engineering internship while you are in college. An internship is usually part of a four-year degree program. It offers you a chance to apply what you learned in the classroom to a work situation. It also allows you to build skills and make contacts with people in the field.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link). Engineers use math and science frequently. Try to take math classes through Trigonometry and science classes through Physics.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

For entry-level jobs, most employers prefer to hire applicants who have a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering. Employers may require some field or technician experience. Requirements range from related summer employment to several years of professional experience. Some employers may require over ten years of experience.

Employers may require a master's degree or higher for research, consulting, and managerial jobs.

Employers prefer to hire petroleum engineers who are detail-oriented and analytical. Oral and written communication skills are also important. Employers look for people who can work on a team. Petroleum engineers may work with people from different cultures or countries.

Costs to workers

Some workers may wish to join a professional association, which may have annual dues. Workers may have to pay for continuing education classes to keep up with changes in the field.


Engineers employed in responsible positions in government or in firms offering services to the public, or who stamp their work as being done by an engineer, must be licensed by the Washington State Department of Licensing.

Getting a license as an engineer-in-training requires:

Professional engineer licensing requirements include:

Engineers who wish to be licensed as professional engineers must pay $65 to the State for an initial national exam application. After State approval, engineers must pay for the registration examination from the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors. The license renewal fee is $116 every two years. Not all engineers in Washington must be licensed.

For licensing information, contact:

Washington State Department of Licensing
Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and
Land Surveyors Licensing Program (external link)

PO Box 9025
Olympia, WA 98507-9025

For information on testing, contact:

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (external link)
PO Box 1686
Clemson, SC 29633-1686


Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Petroleum engineers (SOC 17-2171)

Pay Period
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
Monthly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
Yearly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
United States Hourly $35.71 $49.81 $65.95 $92.20 (2)
Monthly $6,189 $8,632 $11,429 $15,978 (2)
Yearly $74,270 $103,610 $137,170 $191,780 (2)

(1) Wage estimate is not available.
(2) Wages are greater than $90/hour or $187,200/year.

Wages vary by employer and area of the country. The engineer's level of education, experience, and responsibility also affect wages.

Petroleum engineers who work full time may receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. Some employers also provide a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Petroleum Engineers (SOC 17-2171)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 104 7.7% 16.1% 9
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 62 8.1% 14.6% 5
    King County 32 -3.1% 19.6% 2
United States 33,500 2.4% 5.2% 2,500

National employment

Most petroleum engineers work in the petroleum industry and related fields.

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation will be slower than average. Employment growth depends on the price of gas and oil. If prices rise, gas companies will increase their exploration for new sources of gas in the United States. This should result in more jobs for petroleum engineers. When prices fall, it is cheaper to purchase gas and oil overseas. As a result, the demand for engineers declines.

Job opportunities are expected to be excellent. There will be more jobs than qualified candidates. In addition, job openings will occur as current engineers retire or leave this occupation. The best opportunities may include some work in other countries.

Other resources

About Petroleum Geology (external link)
American Association of Petroleum Geologists (external link)
PO Box 979
Tulsa, OK 74119-0979
American Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) (external link)
(This website provides a list of engineering-related programs accredited by ABET)
415 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (external link)
1800 M Street, NW Suite 900 North
Washington, DC 20036
American Geophysical Union (external link)
2000 Florida Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009
American Geosciences Institute (external link)
4220 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22302
Discover Engineering (external link)
Engineer Girl! (external link)
National Academy of Engineering
National Academy of Engineering (external link)
500 Fifth Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (external link)
National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (external link)
280 Seneca Creek Road
Seneca, SC 29678
Petroleum industry career information (external link)
Society of Exploration Geophysicists (external link)
8801 South Yale Avenue, Suite 500
Tulsa, OK 74137
Society of Petroleum Engineers (external link)
PO Box 833836
Richardson, TX 75083-3868
Society of Women Engineers (external link)
130 East Randolph Street, Suite 3500
Chicago, IL 60601
Technology Student Association (external link)
1904 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1540
Washington State Science & Engineering Fair (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster