Petroleum engineers are crucial to the world's economy, ensuring the extraction of oil and gas is safe, efficient and more affordable for customers

As a petroleum engineer, you'll be involved in nearly all stages of oil and gas field evaluation, development and production. Your aim will be to drill for hydrocarbons in the most efficient way, and to resolve any operating issues.

You may also be responsible for using new drilling tools and techniques, and getting the most out of underperforming or older wells. Throughout the entire extraction process, one of your key aims will be reducing the effect of drilling on the environment.

In this role you can work on land, on offshore platforms or on mobile drilling units and frequent travel will be expected.

Types of petroleum engineer

Petroleum engineers are divided into several groups:

  • Petroleum geologists: who find hydrocarbons by analysing subsurface structures with geological and geophysical methods.
  • Reservoir engineers: who work to optimise production of oil and gas via proper well placement, production levels and enhanced oil recovery techniques. They use computer simulations to assist in the identification of risks and to make forecasts on reservoir potential.
  • Production engineers: who manage the interface between the reservoir and the well through tasks such as perforations, sand control, artificial lift, downhole flow control and downhole monitoring equipment. They also select surface equipment that separates the produced fluids (oil, natural gas and water).
  • Drilling engineers: who manage the technical aspects of drilling both production and injection wells. They work in multidisciplinary teams alongside other engineers, scientists, drilling teams and contractors.


As a petroleum engineer you'll typically need to:

  • liaise with geoscientists, production and reservoir engineers and commercial managers to interpret well-logging results and predict production potential
  • compile detailed development plans of reservoir performance using mathematical models
  • select suitable equipment in the well for different functions
  • design the completion - the part of the well that communicates with the reservoir rock and fluids
  • design systems that help the well to flow, for example using submersible pumps
  • manage problems of fluid behaviour and production chemistry
  • evaluate and recommend flow rate enhancement
  • manage and control wells with branches at the bottom (horizontal and multilateral wells)
  • use well and reservoir remote sensing technology and surveillance data to manage the value of the reservoir and decide on appropriate engineering interventions
  • understand and manage how a set of wells interact
  • manage contractor relationships in relation to health, safety and environmental performance
  • supervise well-site operations personnel and manage staff at all levels, including the training and supervision of crew members
  • liaise with separate departments to ensure correct progress with projects
  • take responsibility for the maintenance of equipment
  • liaise with clients to keep them informed of progress.


  • Starting salaries for petroleum engineers are in the region of £25,000 to £45,000, with salaries at the higher end available to those with a relevant PhD. These figures relate to international oil companies and salaries in smaller companies are likely to be lower.
  • With experience, petroleum engineers can expect to earn £55,000 to £100,000. When demand is high, experienced freelance engineers may earn over £1,000 per day.

Location and assignments influence salary. Additional and generous benefits packages and overseas allowances may be available. Pay is performance-related and you may receive bonuses for offshore work.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

On-land working hours are mainly 9am to 5pm but often include some extra hours. Major companies may offer flexible working patterns.

Offshore assignments require shift work, usually 12 hours on and 12 hours off continuously for two weeks, followed by a two to three-week break onshore.

If you work overseas you might work on rotation, spending up to two months onsite followed by a break of one month at home.

What to expect

  • As a newly recruited engineer you may spend a lot of your time at the rig site and so need to be prepared to stay away from home for periods of time. As you progress in your career you may become more office-based, working with other professionals on oilfield developments. This work tends to be onshore but you may still need to travel on occasions.
  • Remote sensing technology, coupled with high bandwidth global networks and visualisation systems, allow more work to be done with fewer people in the field and more decisions made in an office, based on measurements sent in real time from the rig. This development is sometimes known as the 'digital oilfield'.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible with significant experience. Contracts are determined by project status and oil prices.
  • Only a small proportion of petroleum engineers are women but an increasing number are being recruited. Initiatives are in place to encourage more women into the industry including WISE and Women's Engineering Society (WES).
  • The oilfield is a broad mix of cultures and backgrounds. Offshore work involves communal living, though living and leisure facilities are generally very good. Elsewhere, field work may sometimes involve living in inhospitable conditions.
  • The work can be both physically and mentally demanding. The onshore/offshore regime can create extra pressures, particularly to your family and social life.


Employers look for relevant degree subjects such as physical, mathematical or applied sciences and engineering. In particular, the following subjects may increase your chances of securing a job:

  • astrophysics
  • chemical engineering
  • civil engineering
  • earth sciences
  • environmental engineering
  • mathematics
  • mechanical engineering
  • minerals engineering
  • petroleum engineering.

A good first degree (minimum 2:1) is usually required for entry to major oil companies' graduate training programmes, and undergraduate Masters (MEng) degrees are valued.

Entry with an HND or foundation degree only is not usually possible. Most company recruitment policies specify graduate or postgraduate-level qualifications, combined with the requisite personal attributes.

Some employers may ask for a postgraduate qualification in petroleum engineering but other subjects may also be accepted. Check with your preferred employers to see what is required. Postgraduate qualifications can help to lead on to more senior roles and secure higher salaries. Search postgraduate courses in petroleum engineering.

Given the international nature of the work, basic knowledge of foreign languages may be an asset.


You'll need to show:

  • technical capability
  • strong business awareness
  • analytical and creative skills
  • managerial potential
  • ability to motivate staff at all levels
  • ability to work internationally and in offshore environments
  • teamworking skills
  • drive and enthusiasm
  • ability to solve complex problems, regardless of location and circumstances
  • willingness to tackle engineering challenges
  • flexibility and the ability to work on a range of projects
  • computer literacy.

Work experience

Some major oil companies and contractors offer placements during the summer holiday of your penultimate year. This gives you the chance to network with people in the field, get a taste for what the work is like and build up some useful contacts. You could also make speculative applications to relevant companies to find out about other opportunities.

Any experience working on rigs or in an onshore yard is likely to be useful and will demonstrate your interest and motivation. Competition for jobs can be fierce so it helps if you have related experience to set you apart from other candidates.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.


Oil and gas exploration is an international activity and many jobs are based overseas. In the extraction phase, recruitment and training patterns and job titles vary from company to company.

For example, some employers do not distinguish at entry level between petroleum, drilling and support engineering. Instead, they prefer to recruit people with wide potential and deploy them after training where individual preference and company need coincide.

The work of a petroleum engineer can take you all over the world, from Africa to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Employment is usually in one of the following settings:

  • operating or producing companies, especially large international oil companies, although some are smaller and less well-known
  • engineering consultancies
  • integrated service providers, providing staff in varied disciplines
  • specialist drilling contractors, from multinationals to one-person companies, who undertake drilling work on an international scale.

Oil companies vary in size from multinationals to small, nationally-based groups. They tend to own or lease exploration permits, decide where to drill, monitor the drilling and run the production facilities. Owing to the specialised nature of the business, contractors do much of the actual drilling and construction work.

Recruitment can be sensitive to global political and economic pressures. Political unrest, or the rumours of it, can affect prices on the world's market, as much as the effects of supply and demand, but in a more unpredictable way. Inevitably, the market price of a commodity influences investment in the exploration and development of new sources of supply. These factors can have a direct effect on employment, leading to fluctuating demand at short notice for qualified people.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies, such as Rise Technical commonly handle vacancies.

Professional development

If you find employment with a large organisation you may begin on a graduate training programme, which will provide structured training across key elements. You could also work on projects in other countries as part of your training and development.

Companies that do not have graduate programmes typically provide formal training in areas specific to the job and you'll be expected to learn through practical rig-site experience. A mentoring scheme is often available to allow new graduates to access the advice and professional support of more senior engineers.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is supported and so you should look into relevant courses, events and workshops, as well as opportunities to network. Information can be found at:

There is a strong emphasis on working towards obtaining chartered engineer status with the relevant professional engineering institutions, such as the:

Career prospects

Many first appointments are in the field and require people who are physically fit and geographically mobile. This means not only being prepared to go anywhere in the world, but also being able to stay in that location for the duration of the project. If you're unable to relocate, your chances of securing a job or subsequent promotions will be reduced.

On completion of a training programme, you may progress from primarily technical roles, through the promotion structure, to highly regarded and well-paid senior technical appointments.

It's also possible to move into commercial roles in areas such as recruitment or marketing, or in leadership and management.

Senior roles can include asset team leadership, business planning and analysis, non-operated joint ventures (NOJV), asset management, operations supervising and environmental, safety, fire, health and project management.

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