Petroleum Engineer

Petroleum engineers develop and implement effective techniques for recovering, processing, and producing oil and natural gas. They apply engineering, environmental, and economic principles to ensure that exploration and development of oil and gas fields are efficient, cost effective, and environmentally safe. These engineers can specialize in drilling, reservoir management, completions, production, operations, secondary and tertiary recovery methods, and pipelines.

At a Glance

Imagine you are working in the field, preparing a site for the production of hydrocarbons (oil and gas). For the past few months, you have been working very closely with geoscientists to assess the quality of potential drilling locations in terms of the amount of oil available, the quality of the oil, and how far below the surface it lies. After a site has been chosen, you will determine the equipment you will need to extract the oil. You are a petroleum engineer, and you involved in almost every stage of oil and gas exploration and development.

As a petroleum engineer, you search for potential drilling locations and assess whether or not potential drilling locations will have economic value for your company. You do this by taking samples from the location and analyzing the data. After a valuable drilling site has been selected, you are then in charge of monitoring and coordinating the process of drilling to get oil to the surface. Lastly, you monitor the removal of equipment when the drilling at the location is complete. You also spend time developing ways to optimize drilling methods and researching alternative ways of hydrocarbon recovery.

The goal is to lower costs and reduce the environmental impact of operations. You are proactive by working to design and implement environmentally responsible techniques. You want to prevent oil spills that can be very damaging to the environment.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a petroleum engineer:

  • Use computers to analyze drilling data to determine whether wells contain economically recoverable quantities of hydrocarbons.
  • Monitor and coordinate drilling, reservoir, production and facilities engineering and safety activities.
  • Design and implement environmentally responsible production, processing, and transportation techniques.
  • Design and construct facilities for the recovery, processing, and transportation of petroleum products.
  • Design and implement environmental controls on oil and gas operations.
  • Develop ways to optimize drilling methods and improve production processes to minimize impacts on the environment.
  • Estimate the immediate and long-term production rates of oil and gas wells and their total recoverable volumes of oil and gas over time.
  • Perform economic modeling and evaluations for petroleum assets.
  • Perform risk and cash flow analysis, portfolio simulation, exploration appraisal, and business development.

Work Environment

Petroleum engineers work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:

In the office:

  • Create economic modeling and evaluations for oil and gas sites
  • Develop business partnerships
  • Perform financial analyses
  • Write project proposals, schedules and budgets

In the field:

  • Perform data and sampling analyses
  • Coordinate drilling activities and safety procedures
  • Monitor regulation compliance

Where to Work

  • Large-scale oil exploration and production firms managing sites in Canada (usually Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia) and overseas
  • Small-scale, independent oil exploration, production, and oilfield services firms
  • Engineering consulting firms
  • Government agencies
  • Self-employment as an independent consultant
  • Financial institutions providing loans for oil and gas properties

Education and Skills

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a petroleum engineer is a university undergraduate degree. The following post-secondary programs are most applicable for a career in this field:

  • Petroleum engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Geological engineering

You will need to work for two or three years as an engineer-in-training (EIT) and then write a professional practice exam. A post-graduate degree, master’s degree, or Ph.D. may be required and can improve your employment prospects and salary. To practice as a professional engineer, you must be licensed with a provincial or territorial engineering association. If you are a high school student considering a career as a petroleum engineer you should have a strong interest in:

  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry
  • Computer science



Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with business skills. Learn how the ECO Academy can help you build the essential skills needed for a successful environmental career.

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