How to Become a

Petroleum Engineer

The complete career guide to be a Petroleum Engineer: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $149,590
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 9.7%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Get to Travel
    Career Attribute

Petroleum engineers assist with retrieving oil and gas from natural reservoirs by forming plans, developing equipment, and testing new technologies for retrieving these natural resources. They may work to form plans for oil and gas extraction, or they may develop the equipment used in extraction.

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What is a Petroleum Engineer?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in petroleum engineer roles:

  • Design the equipment that’s used to extract oil and gas from land and offshore reservoirs
  • Form plans for gas and oil extraction, dictating what equipment to use and planning the collection points
  • Monitor oil and gas collection over the lifetime of the process to determine when reservoirs are producing less than expected, and when they’ve been emptied
  • Design new equipment that can be used to recover leftover amounts of oil and gas that are unable to be collected with existing systems and equipment
  • Oversee collection to watch for equipment malfunctions and safety issues

A Day in the Life

Petroleum engineers are the individuals responsible for enabling gas and oil to be transformed into energy to heat homes and power automobiles. They do this by developing the equipment used to extract gas and oil from underground reservoirs—either on land or offshore. By developing the equipment used, forming the plans for extraction, developing new methods of extracting gas and oil completely, and monitoring site production, petroleum engineers ensure that oil and gas are available.

Different types of petroleum engineers perform different roles. Some focus on building the equipment used in gas and oil collection. These engineers test new processes to find more productive or efficient means of retrieving natural resources. They may improve existing equipment or develop new equipment that’s designed to ensure all gas and oil are retrieved from a reservoir. Others may work on developing the wells used to house collected gas and oil, using pressure-control or hydraulic fracturing techniques.

Other petroleum engineers help plan and manage collections. They may visit collection points and conduct tests to determine the location of the best collection points and the types of equipment to be used during collection. They may also oversee collection while in progress to monitor collection amounts and ensure that reservoirs are being emptied in expected amounts. They also manage equipment to look for signs of malfunction or safety issues, and request work on equipment when needed.

Typical Work Schedule

Petroleum engineers generally work full-time schedules, and some are also required to work overtime. Their working schedules can be irregular. For example, many travel for work to different collection points. At those collection points, they may work continuously for four days and then have four days off. However, they do not have to be continuously working for each hour of those four days—just on call and on-site to handle issues and emergencies. Others work more traditional business hours.

Projected Job Growth

Many current petroleum engineers are nearing retirement age, which is expected to increase demand for new petroleum engineers in the coming decade to fill vacated roles.

Petroleum Engineer Specializations

  • Reservoir engineers conduct tests to determine how much oil or gas can be recovered from reservoirs, and in what amounts.
  • Drilling engineers form the plans for extracting oil and gas from reservoirs, determining extraction points and choosing the equipment to be used.
  • Completion engineers focus their efforts on designing and building the wells used to store recovered oil and gas.
  • Production engineers oversee collection, ensuring that collection amounts are as expected and monitoring equipment for malfunctions.

Typical Employers

Petroleum engineers are most commonly employed by companies in the oil and gas extraction industries. However, they may also work for mining companies, engineering companies, and petroleum and coal manufacturing companies.

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How To Become a Petroleum Engineer

At a minimum, petroleum engineers must have a bachelor’s degree from a program that’s accredited by ABET. Ideally, aspiring petroleum engineers will hold bachelor’s degrees specifically in petroleum engineering, but it’s possible to find work in the field with a degree in mechanical or chemical engineering. With a bachelor’s degree, you should be able to find entry-level work as a petroleum engineer, though taking internships in petroleum engineering during college will improve your chances of finding work after graduation.

For higher-level roles in petroleum engineering, a master’s degree may be required. For this reason, some aspiring petroleum engineers enroll in special 5-year programs that allow for earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the same time. These programs are great because they shave a year off of the required education for earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree separately, and they allow petroleum engineers to qualify for promotions and more senior-level positions after earning experience in the field without having to go back to school for additional education.

While state licensing is not required for petroleum engineers in many cases, it can help make you more competitive for higher-paying open roles, and it can help if you want to move into a different type of engineering later in your career. To become licensed as a professional engineer, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited institution, you’ll need at least four years of professional experience as an engineer, and you’ll need to pass two written exams: fundamentals of engineering and professional engineering. You may also choose to pursue a certification from the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Petroleum Engineer Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

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High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Petroleum Engineer salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Petroleum Engineer's can make an average annual salary of $149,590, or $72 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $99,390 or $48 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #16 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Petroleum Engineer. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among Petroleum Engineers

  • 4.7%   Doctorate
  • 21.5%   Masters
  • 56.3%   Bachelors
  • 4.9%   Associates
  • 6.4%   College
  • 5.9%   High School
  • 0.2%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Petroleum Engineer job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 3,400 jobs for a total of 38,500 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 9.7% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #210 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

What Companies Employ The Most Petroleum Engineers

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Oil and gas extraction 15,800 1,900 2%
Support activities for mining 5,600 800 1%
Management of companies and enterprises 3,200 100 0%

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