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What is Petroleum Engineering?

Petroleum engineering ensures that energy will continue to be a key component of societal functioning and people’s everyday lives. Petroleum engineers solve important challenges that contribute to energy security and national prosperity. The rewarding field of petroleum engineering requires knowledge of physics, geology, chemistry, and mathematics. Petroleum engineers often work on global oil and gas projects in developing areas in Asia, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe.

Job Duties

Petroleum engineers examine and research complex maps of subsurface oil and gas reservoirs in order to recommend the strategic placement of wells. Their goal is to maximize the economical production from the reservoirs while maintaining safety, efficiency and environmental stability. They evaluate potential well production rates and performances through computer-simulated programs and flow production models. For example, they may create flow simulations that are enhanced by various processes, such as pressurizing or subsurface heating.

Petroleum engineers recommend supplementary processes that enhance recovery and performance. They develop well-drilling plans for management to approve. This means they must specify things like drilling time, material requirements and special operational needs. This may call for directional drilling and testing, or it may require unique well casing and drilling technology. Petroleum engineers provide technical consultations during drilling operations to resolve existing and potential problems. This is usually things like bore directional change, unsatisfactory drilling rate and subsurface water problems in wellbores.

Related: What is Drilling Engineering?

Job Hazards

Work in the drilling and refining fields is fraught with dangers. Not all who work in these industries, however, are regularly exposed to dangerous job conditions. So, do petroleum engineers work around many hazards throughout their daily duties on the job?

The answer to this question really depends on the individual engineer’s position, duties, and resulting total time requiring them to work hands-on in the field. When working in an office or mobile site office setting, this position requires little to no out-of-the-ordinary job hazard exposure. This is unlike time spent in the field.

When the engineer must get down in the trenches with the equipment in the field, they are then exposed to the various and often many hazards associated with that equipment, the site itself, weather, and more. Sometimes, hands-on field work of this type is entirely necessary in order for the engineer to really see the mechanical scenarios at hand and work in creating real solutions, upgrades, and so on.

Required Education

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that petroleum engineers should have a four-year degree in petroleum engineering, but a bachelor’s degree in chemical or mechanical engineering is sometimes accepted. The objective of a petroleum engineering program will most likely be to produce qualified engineers who can successfully provide oil and gas production services and technical advice. Graduates of these programs will understand the science and engineering principles behind the technology and operation of petroleum engineering. These programs often emphasize ethical behavior, continuing professional education and environmentally responsible stewardship of natural resources.

Programs dealing in the engineering of petroleum develop a working knowledge of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, phase behavior, material properties, transport phenomena and strength of materials. Petroleum engineering programs develop competence in design and analysis of well systems, drilling procedures, and well completion techniques. Students are trained in the evaluation and characterization of subsurface geological formations through geoscientific methods. Students learn how to design and analyze systems that produce, inject and handle subsurface fluids. Students also learn how to optimize resource development and management.

Expected Job Qualifications

Petroleum engineers should be familiar with both traditional and unconventional drilling techniques. They need broad knowledge of well drilling, management and completion practices. Some petroleum engineers must understand hydraulic fracturing and reservoir stimulation technologies. Petroleum engineers should be comfortable working in the field under challenging climate or weather conditions, but they must also be comfortable working long hours in an office analyzing large data sets and statistics to make conclusions and recommendations.

Petroleum engineers should have the ability to effectively apply the fundamental concepts and procedures of petroleum engineering. They must continue their professional development of technical expertise and knowledge through seminars, training and formal education. Companies want petroleum engineers who are creative thinkers and problem solvers with the ability to find new ways to solve problems. Having a strong intellectual curiosity to explore better ways to make good investment decisions while protecting the environment will be appreciated. Finally, petroleum engineers should be highly-motivated team players who are willing to collaborate and go the extra mile to complete any and all projects that may come their way.

Real-World Job Opportunities

When it comes to specific job roles found in and closely associated with petroleum engineering work, there are plenty of options to be found. The following represent just a sample of those many opportunities today.

Petroleum Supply Specialist

Those who work as petroleum supply specialists are often engineers in the background but work in a variety of knowledge areas in this role. The primary duty of this job is to monitor and manage petroleum supplies and volumes in various points of the production and supply chains. When issues arise in these chains of petroleum products, these professionals interject using their engineering know-how in conjunction with their knowledge in how the production and supply chains operate in order to resolve those issues. Aside from simply reacting to problems, these petroleum pros also work to thwart potential issues before they occur.

Reservoir Engineer

Reservoir engineering is a specialty area found in today’s petroleum endeavors that use liquids and gases to help permeate the Earth in ideal fashion so as to allow for the best subsequent resource/petroleum harvest possible. This complex engineering sub-science combines geology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and a number of other disciplines in order to precisely crack ground and allow for clean extractions. Not all of the petroleum industry requires the services of these specialized pros, but in operations in which sensitive drilling and extraction parameters exist, these are the go-to engineers.

Petroleum Equipment Manager

Petroleum equipment managers rely on a background in engineering as well as petroleum process and supply chain matters in order to help manage equipment resources. From drilling and suction systems to ventilation and safety equipment, these managers oversee a wide array of petroleum field equipment, tools, and devices. They must also work regularly in close association with many other petroleum sector professionals such as those mentioned in this list.

Process Engineer

Process engineers are also often referred to as “operations engineers.” In their role in processes and operations in petroleum endeavors, they work among many other engineers and workers to create, adapt, maintain, and manage how those processes physically work. This can involve a wide variety of specific, mechanical focuses including drilling apparatus, on-site transportation systems, on-site utility systems, physical work processes carried out by workers, and more. At the end of the day, this professional has done their job well if safety and productive efficiency have both been achieved throughout their day’s endeavors.

Controls Engineer

Like this role’s name suggests, the controls engineer focuses primarily on the various control systems found throughout a drilling or refinement operation. There are many systems that utilize control arrangements in the petroleum field, and some of these include document management systems, communications systems, HVAC and electrical systems, elevator and motion systems, pneumatic systems, and many more. Due to the variety of systems in which controls can be associated in the petroleum work sector, this particular kind of petroleum engineer job requires a strong repertoire of physics-based and mechanical knowledge.

Regional Supply and Demand Info

Regional supply and demand is an incredibly important area of governing concern for the whole of the petroleum industry including the individual engineers therein. In locations where supply abounds, drilling and refining operations can usually found nearby or right on site. In locations where there is little promise for extractable resources, fewer petroleum-based operations are likely to exist. Due to the high costs of petroleum operations, they are always located with the most strategic of geographic specificity.

With regard to demand factors alone, these also have some effect on the greater industry, though the product can be moved to high-demand areas when drilling and processing locations aren’t nearly as plentiful. Interestingly, the factor of demand can also be somewhat controlled through the control of petroleum supplies. This, however, is a highly regulated practice in the US and elsewhere.

For specific and up-to-date geographic petroleum operation location data, the US Energy Information Administration, or USEIA, is a leading resource one can stay abreast of at any time. This government agency provides online data regarding all types of resource drilling, refinement, and exploration activities including those involving the petroleum sector. Natural gas operations are another mainstay data set of the agency and its website.

The USEIA website is fairly easy to use with visitors having the option to view various interactive maps as well as research a range of topics important to the wider underground resource industry. Additional industry resource points and news access is also offered freely from the site. Specific to petroleum works, the site also offers a variety of past and current statistics and petroleum-derived energy information.

In conclusion, for those seeking even more information on the wide world of petroleum engineering today, The Society of Petroleum Engineers and The American Association of Drilling Engineers are two leading authorities on this particular industry today.

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