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Chemical Engineer (Retired)
Durham, North Carolina
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Petroleum engineering is a big discipline with many different career paths, so an answer to your question is not simple. Speaking as a chemical engineer who worked in the oil industry for many years and learned much from working with petroleum engineers, I can say that petroleum engineers typically start in their profession by monitoring and analyzing the performance of oil and/or natural gas fields using data such as pressure, flow rates, and the composition of oil and gas being produced, among other things. As you gain experience, you would be given more responsibility, either by managing larger and more important fields or by being given authority to change how the field is managed.
In addition, other typical responsibilities of petroleum engineers include monitoring the performance of individual wells so that necessary maintenance can be performed (usually called 'workovers'), and determining the best location for new wells in a producing field.
Petroleum engineers also work with geologists and other specialists to search for undiscovered oil and natural gas fields and evaluate the characteristics of any oil and gas fields that are found.
Another potential career path for petroleum engineers involves computer modeling and simulation of oil and natural gas fields. This involves lots of very complex mathematics and computer programming. This type of modeling is done for several reasons, including: 1) Helping guide the development of a newly discovered oil or gas field; 2) Determining how much oil and natural gas can be safely produced from an existing field without damaging the reservoir; 3) Determining the best placement for new wells, how much to produce from existing wells, and whether to close wells permanently because they are no longer worth producing from.
This is not a complete description of what kind of work is done by petroleum engineers, but I hope it gives you a better understanding of what you might do if you decide to become a petroleum engineer. Best of luck in your career choice.
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Flint W. Beard
Flint W.’s Answer
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This is a great question, and one that I had posed myself at the time that I changed my major over to petroleum engineering , and strangely there are not a TON of resources that explicitly lay out what we petroleum engineers do day in and day out. That's partly due to the fact that the job can be a bit nebulous, in that a lot of us petroleum engineers wear lots of different hats in our professional lives, sometimes even in the course of a single work day! The easiest way I've found of breaking it down is as follows:
There are three main sub-disciplines within the profession of petroleum engineering, and while there is some overlap (especially when in the educational and internship phases of your career), a petroleum engineer will typically find interest and end up pursuing a "specialization", if you will, in one of these three-
1) Drilling Engineering - Drilling engineers do exactly what it sounds like, they design and implement plans and procedures for drilling oil and gas wells. Sometimes this means they work at a desk, designing drilling plans at the field or the well level, passing them along to a drilling contractor to be carried out, and sometimes this means they are actually boots on the ground (or boots on the RIG, more accurately), overseeing the drilling process personally at the well level. This subtype of petroleum engineer is seen as "closest to the drillbit", meaning they are usually considered the "front lines" in the engineering side of the quest for economic and safe discovery and exploitation of petroleum reserves.
2) Production Engineering - The label of Production Engineer is one that covers several different sub-subtypes of petroleum engineers in the energy industry. Some production engineers work to design, install, and oversee operation of equipment on the SURFACE to produce and process various petroleum products. Other production engineers work to design, install, and oversee operation of equipment on the SUBSURFACE (i.e. underground, at the reservoir level) to aid in the economic production of oil and gas reserves. Some production engineers work exclusively in a phase of the production stream known as COMPLETIONS, these are the engineers designing and carrying out completion procedures that take place immediately after a well is drilled, including hydraulic fracturing, well stimulation, well workovers, and more. And lastly, some production engineers work at a higher level, usually in a corporate office, overseeing the planning and execution of field wide OPERATIONS, working closely with other field and office personnel to safely and economically carry out a grand plan to produce oil and gas at the more macro level.
3) Reservoir Engineering - Lastly is the reservoir subtype, which can cover many bases, but is best summed up in saying that the reservoir engineers works closely with other sub-surface experts (like geologists and geophysicists) to apply advanced scientific principals to find, characterize, model, and ultimately exploit oil and gas reservoirs. This includes using advanced math and numerical methods, building computer aided reservoir models, and carrying out calculations to accurately capture the size of oil and gas reserves for reporting to the government on behalf of a given oil and gas company.
Of course, as with ANY type of engineering, there are many different types of work and jobs that can result from any of the above sub-disciplines, or even a combination of two or all three. Personally, in my career, I have had exposure to work from all three, with the early part of my career focusing mostly on the Reservoir Engineering sphere, then later moving in a Production Operations Engineering capacity. The schooling, and the work, are not always easy, but they are rewarding both financially and personally, and there's one thing you can always be sure of: things will rarely be boring, the promise of an ever-changing oil and gas industry is that things are always moving and the game is always changing.