What Are the Advantages & Disadvantages of Being a Petroleum Engineer?

by Chris Joseph; Updated September 26, 2017
Petroleum engineers oversee the extraction of oil and natural gas.

Petroleum engineering is a highly specialized career field that involves the location and extraction of natural resources like oil and gas. Petroleum engineers typically work in industries such as oil and gas extraction, mining and petroleum and coal products manufacturing. While a petroleum engineering career can be rewarding, it also poses a number of potential challenges.

Importance of Work

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only a small percentage of the necessary oil and gas flows out due to natural forces. An advantage of being a petroleum engineer is that these workers possess the specialized knowledge and skills to perform a task that is essential to the economic well-being of the nation. Many consumers and businesses rely on natural gas and oil, and petroleum engineers design and implement processes to extract these resources in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

High Earnings

Petroleum engineers also enjoy the advantage of earning a high income. The BLS indicates that the average annual income of petroleum engineers in the United States is $127,970 as of May 2010. The median income is $114,080, meaning half of the engineers earn greater than this amount, while the other half earn less. The top 25 percent of petroleum engineers earn more than $158,580. The industry employing the greatest number of petroleum engineers is oil and gas extraction, with an average annual income of $138,130.

Challenging Requirements

On the downside, it is not easy to become a petroleum engineer. According to "The Princeton Review" website, prospective petroleum engineers must obtain an undergraduate degree in the field, which consists of coursework in challenging subjects like geophysics, chemistry, fluid dynamics and tectonics. Some employers may require the completion of postgraduate studies. Only a limited number of universities offer petroleum engineering programs. Depending on their state of employment, some engineers may also need to meet licensing requirements, which may include passing an examination.

Difficult Working Conditions

Another possible drawback is that petroleum engineers often face difficult working conditions. Relocation may be necessary, as oil and gas production typically occurs in specific geographic regions. Engineers may have to remain at a site for months or even years at a time, which could keep them away from family for extended periods. Much of the job consists of failure, especially during the exploration phase when attempting to locate resources, so engineers must be capable of coping with frustration.

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