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Geology/Career in Petroleum Engineering


I was wondering what petroleum engineers actually do in the field. I heard from one person that you just sit in a trailer next to an oil field and supervise everything. I heard from another that you get to travel across the world frequently and it's very exiting. What does a petroleum engineer actually design/plan/engineer and why do they travel so often?


Like so many things in the petroleum industry, there are a lot of roles played by people bearing one title.

I am a geologist, but I have friends who went to the Colorado School of mines and they graduated from the same petroleum engineering program, but do entirely different things, based in part on what they wanted to do, and the career opportunties that became available.

Engineers can do a variety of things based on specalties that they went into as they pursued their careers.

A four year degree only affords you so many opportunties or electives, so I would surmise that there is the opportunity to take some electives that later might make you better qualified for certain specialty areas.  A masters degree affords even more of that, but most Petroleum Engineers I know just have a 4 year degree and based on the limtied number of PEs they readily find jobs.  They have always been the highest paid petroleum professional, even more than an MS geologist of geophysicist.  This is due to supply and demand.  There have always been more geologists than the other two.

Some of the engineering specialties I am aware of are:  Drilling engineer, production engineer, well test engineer, modeling engineer, mud engineer, and the list goes on I am sure.

The titles pretty much describe what one does.  One of my two friends was a test engineer.  He would fly to a well site and test the completed wells.  He might stay for a month or two depending on the location and the well(s) to be tested.  He went to Tunisa one time for three months to test some new wells out in the desert.  He was eventually sent overseas permanently to Indonesia and worked on and off off shore on a gas field.  Now he lives in Singapore and works for a consulting firm, has a Indonesian wife and two or three boys.

Our other friend was a modeling engineer.  He worked in an office here stateside, and wanted to go oveseas, but his company would not transfer him.  So he quit, went back to school, got his MS in mathmatics, then went to Stanford and got his PhD in petroleum engineering and got a job overseas.  By most accounts he is overqualified, but after a stint as a consultant, at which he was not very well suited, he went back to work for a major company and is now in western China.  He has a Thai wife and a new daughter.  Her is food for thought, travel can be nice but it delays the start of a family.  My friends are both only two years younger than I am, I just graduated my last kid from college.  I am 58.  My two friends kids range from 3-4 years old to 10 years old. I joke with them that they'll be nearly 70 when their youngest kids start to drive.  So keep that in mind.

The modeling engineer will soon back stateside to work on the Shale gas and oil play in Pennsylvania.  At some point, people with seniority and experience move into management positions and travel less.  But as a new graduate, you need to identify what it is you want to do, what it is you are good at or qualified to do, and find a job  that fits your skill set and your ultimate career goals.

If travel is your goal then a well site engineering job would be of interest, like mud engineering, or drilling engineering.  This is particularly important in light of the increase in horizontal drilling in the unconventional resource play (shale gas and oil).  Other lines of engineering like testing, or modeling have more periodic travel.

Hope this helps.  


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Keith Patton


I can answer questions concerning physical and historical geology, environmental geology/hydrology, environmental consulting, remote sensing/aerial photo interpretation, G&G computer applications, petroleum exploration, drilling, geochemistry, geochemical and microbiological prospecting, 3D reservoir modeling, computer mapping and drilling.I am not a geophysicist.


I have 24 years experience split between the petroleum and environmental industries. I have served as an expert witness in remote sensing, developmental geologist, exploration geologist, enviromental project manager, and subject matter expert in geology and geophysical software development.

American Association of Petroleum Geologists
American Association of Photogrammetrists and Remote Sensing

Bachelor and Master of Science
Registered Geologist in State of Texas

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