What Do Petroleum Engineers Do? Job Description, Outlook, Salary, Cost & Schools

From finding new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells to providing manufacturers the oil and gas needed to produce more than three hundred products we use every day (cosmetics, medicines, plastics, and textiles), petroleum engineers basically help to keep our world running.

With mouth-watering pay across nations, a job as a petroleum engineer is definitely a profitable one. However, knowing what petroleum engineers do can help you determine if it’s a good career for you.

Stay with me as I break this down to you.

Petroleum engineering is an engineering field that deals majorly with the exploration, extraction, and production of oil. A petroleum engineer is basically involved in almost all of the stages of oil and gas field evaluation, development and production.

In fact, they are very crucial to the world’s economy as they ensure the extraction of oil and gas is safe, efficient, and more affordable for customers.

And guess what?

A career as a petroleum engineer is very profitable. With an annual salary of $137,170 per year, they are currently among the top 20 occupations with the highest median annual pay according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Want to pursue a career in this field? Then, this is for you!

In this article, you learn about the responsibilities of petroleum engineers, steps you can take to become a one, required skills, and their salary. You will also get t know the best schools where you can pursue a degree in petroleum engineering.

Here is a table of what to expect:

Who is a Petroleum Engineer?

According to EnvironmentalScience.com, a petroleum engineer (also known as a gas engineer) determines the most efficient way to drill for and extract oil and natural gas at a particular well. 

CareerExplorer defines a petroleum engineer as someone who locates reservoirs of natural gas and crude oil beneath the earth’s surface, and then determines if the effort of extracting the product will be worth the time and money for the company he/she works for. 

Basically, etroleum engineers oversee drilling operations and resolve any operating problems. They decide how to stimulate an underperforming well. They also develop new drilling tools and techniques and find new ways to extract the remaining oil and gas from older wells.

Before we look at what they do in its entirety, let’s see some of the skills one must possess to become a petroleum engineer.

The important qualities and skills you must possess as a petroleum engineer include:

  • Analytical skills
  • Creativity
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Math skills
  • Problem-solving skills

Analytical Skills

As a petroleum engineer, you must be able to compile and make sense of large amounts of technical information and data in order to ensure that facilities operate safely and effectively.

Hence, the need for analytical skills.


Basically, each new drill site is unique and therefore presents new challenges. So as a petroleum engineer, you must be able to come up with creative designs to extract oil and gas.

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Interpersonal Skills

Generally, petroleum engineers must work with others especially on projects that require highly complex machinery, equipment, and infrastructure.

Therefore communicating and working well with other engineers and oil and gas workers is crucial to ensuring that projects meet customer needs and run safely and efficiently.

Math Skills

As a petroleum engineer, you have to know, understand and be good with your math. The reason being that petroleum engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving Skills

Identifying problems in drilling plans is very critical for petroleum engineers because these problems can be costly.

So as a petroleum engineer, you must be careful not to overlook any potential issues and must quickly address those which do occur.

What Do Petroleum Engineers Do?

Basically, Petroleum engineers are involved in nearly all of the stages of oil and gas field evaluation, development, and production. They design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface.

Here are other duties and roles of petroleum engineers:

  • Designing equipment to extract oil and gas from onshore and offshore reserves deep underground.
  • Developing plans to drill in oil and gas fields, and then to recover the oil and gas.
  • Developing ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve to force out more oil or gas.
  • Make sure that oilfield equipment is installed, operated, and maintained properly.
  • Evaluating the production of wells through surveys, testing, and analysis.

Regardless of the above-listed roles, what the petroleum engineer does will vary depending on the company he/she worked for, and whether he/she will be working on land or offshore.

Below are several specialties in which the petroleum engineer can work as:

Drilling and Completion Engineers

As a drilling and completion engineer, he/she plans, designs, and implements drilling and completion programs for all types of wells, keeping economics and safety in mind at all times.

Production Engineers

As a production engineer, he/she evaluates artificial lift methods and develops surface equipment systems to separate water, oil, and gas.

The production engineer here will also analyze and optimize the performance of individual wells.

Reservoir Engineers

As a reservoir engineer, he/she conducts studies in order to determine development plans for gas and oil reservoirs. This may include well placement, field development, oil recovery techniques, and proper production and injection rates.  

They also monitor operations to ensure that optimal levels of these resources are being recovered.

Reservoir Engineers often work in conjunction with the production engineer.

Subsurface Engineers

As a subsurface engineer, he/she selects equipment that will be the most suitable for the subsurface environment.

Once the hardware is selected, the subsurface engineer will monitor and adjust the equipment, ensuring the reservoir and well are produced under ideal circumstances.

How To Become a Petroleum Engineer

The first step to choosing any career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. The reason is that you wouldn’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. 

Here is a step by step procedure to becoming a petroleum engineer:

  • Earn a High School Diploma
  • Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
  • Consider a Graduate Degree
  • Get Experience
  • Gain Licensure
  • Earn Certifications

Earn a High School Diploma

To become a petroleum engineer, you need to start with the right high school programs. Basically, a high school program rich in science and math is the vital early foundation of a career in petroleum engineering.

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That is, taking high school courses in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and in science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Most entry-level jobs here require a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering or a related engineering field.

Typical bachelor’s degree programs include classes, laboratory work, and field studies in areas such as engineering principles, geology, and thermodynamics.

Also, most colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.

Furthermore, towards the end of your undergraduate coursework, you can take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. An FE exam is a 6-hour long computer-based exam consisting of 110 questions, and successful completion will earn you the title Engineer-in-Training (EIT).

Note that being an EIT shows you’re on the path to earning a Professional Engineer license, which many employers also seek.

Consider a Graduate Degree

A graduate degree in petroleum engineering is optional. However, most employers prefer this qualification, and having it can increase your earning potential.

Also following experience in the field, students who pursue a related Master’s or PhD will be considered prime candidates for management roles, university faculty appointments, or advanced research positions.

Get Experience

Basically, to get an engineering license, you need four years of engineering experience supervised by a licensed engineer.

our college or university can often assist with placement, or you can visit the website of the National Society of Professional Engineers for updates on opportunities on their website as well.

Gain Licensure

Basically, every state requires independently-employed or contracted engineers to be licensed. Licensure validates your expertise and qualifications to employers and clients.

To gain licensure, meet up with your state requirements. Although the requirements to obtain one vary per state, you’ll likely need the following: 

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program.
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years.
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.

Once the requirements above are fulfilled, you can apply to become a Professional Engineer.

Also, note that renewal of your license will be needed but time periods and requirements vary by state.

Earn Certifications

The Society of Petroleum Engineers offers certification to petroleum engineers. To be certified, petroleum engineers must be members of the Society, pass an exam, and also meet other qualifications.

This certification, in turn, will prepare you for leadership roles in the petroleum engineering field.

Where Do Petroleum Engineers Work?

Generally, petroleum engineers work in offices or at drilling and well sites. They also travel frequently to visit these sites or to meet with other engineers, oilfield workers, and customers.

Also, they sometimes work in other countries as most large oil and gas companies maintain operations around the world. And as such, they must be able to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including other types of engineers, scientists, and oil and gas field workers.

Here is a few statistics about petroleum engineer jobs!

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, petroleum engineers held about 33,500 jobs in 2025. Still from the report, the largest employers of this profession were as follows:

Oil and gas extraction 29%
Management of companies and enterprises 18
Support activities for mining 16
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing 11
Engineering services 7

What is The Job Outlook For Petroleum Engineers?

The employment of petroleum engineers is expected to increase by 3 percent from 2025 to 2028. Oil prices will be a major determinant of employment growth in this field.

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That is to say, higher prices can cause oil and gas companies to increase capital investment in new facilities and expand existing production operations, along with exploration.

How Much Do Petroleum Engineers Earn?

The median annual wage for petroleum engineers is $137,720. That is, petroleum engineers earn $66.21 per hour. This is as seen on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet to get a degree in petroleum engineering? Then, stay with me!

See How to Get a Diploma in Petroleum Engineering Fast

Is Petroleum Engineering Hard to Study?

Just like every major and degree in school, you have to be serious and put in effort into your studies to scale through.

Also, it has one of the lowest FE pass rates (73%, versus 79% for Mechanical), so it probably isn’t all that hard as a major.

Students’ Reports

Here are what some past and present students have to say as seen on Quora and LetsRun:

1st Report

It’s not any harder than all the other engineering degrees (or other majors for that matter). It takes discipline, work ethic, and faith in yourself. It also helps to immerse yourself in a culture that promotes learning, which means staying out of the bars, and in the library.

Peer study is important in PETE, so it also helps to work on your interpersonal and team-building skills. Keep your head down and try your best and with help from your peer-groups, you’ll look back on your time in Uni as the easiest part of being a Petroleum Engineer.

Michael Broussard, B.S. Petroleum Engineering & Mathematics, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (2011)

2nd Report

I just graduated with my BS in petroleum engineering and I would say that the degree isn’t too difficult as long as you are willing to do the work and can think for yourself. I probably did homework 4 days a week and probably averaged about 15 to 20 hours of work per week. The only time I saw people struggle in petroleum engineering is when they were not thinking.

The hardest part for me was math, but luckily the math never got too difficult. I felt the physics behind it is intuitive and if you can understand the physics you will do great in the classes.

There are also 4 different types of petroleum engineers: reservoir engineers, production engineers, drilling engineers, and petrophysicists. In school, you will learn a little bit about all of the disciplines and you can decide which niche suits you best.

Again petroleum engineering is not difficult, but you have to put in the work because it’s not easy.

PE Graduate

How Much Does a Petroleum Engineering Program Cost?

The tuition cost for petroleum engineering programs varies among levels (undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D.) and schools.

For instance, at the University of North Dakota, residents pay $13,833.12 each year for the petroleum engineering program while and international students pay $25,929.60.

So, it’s best you visit the financial page of your chosen school for their updated fees.

What are The Best Petroleum Engineering Schools?

Below are the best petroleum engineering universities in the world. Do well to click on any of them to know more


Petroleum is used as an energy source for power generation and transportation and also to create thousands of everyday products, from most plastics and synthetic textiles to cosmetics and even medicines.

However, the extraction and production process of petroleum wouldn’t be possible without the effort of petroleum engineers.

The article above provides detailed information on what you need to know about this oi and gas engineers.

I hope this helps you in your decision-making process.

Good Luck And Success!!!


  • USBLS – Occupational Outlook Handbook of Petroleum Engineers
  • CareerExplorer – What does a petroleum engineer do?
  • Indeed – How to Become a Petroleum Engineer
  • Quora – How hard is petroleum engineering?
  • LetsRun.com – How difficult is petroleum engineering?


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