Petroleum engineering

Petroleum engineering

Petroleum engineering refers to the subsurface engineering activities related to the production of hydrocarbons, which can be either crude oil or gas. These activities are deemed to fall within the upstream sector of the oil and gas industry which are the activities of finding and producing hydrocarbons prior to the point of refining or distribution to a market, which is referred to as the downstream sector. Petroleum geology and petroleum engineering are the two main subsurface disciplines within the oil and gas industry, which focus on maximizing economic recovery of hydrocarbons from subsurface reservoirs. Petroleum geology focuses on provision of a static description of the hydrocarbon reservoir rock, while petroleum engineering focuses on estimation of the recoverable volume of this resource using a detailed understanding of the physical behavior of oil, water and gas within porous rock at very high pressure.

The combined efforts of geologists and petroleum engineers throughout the life of a hydrocarbon accumulation determine the way in which a reservoir is developed and depleted, and usually they have the highest impact on field economics. Petroleum engineering requires a good knowledge of many other related disciplines, such as geophysics, petroleum geology, formation evaluation (well logging), drilling, economics, reservoir simulation, well engineering, artificial lift systems, and oil & gas facilities engineering.


Petroleum engineering has become a technical profession that involves extracting oil in increasingly difficult situations as the "low hanging fruit" of the world's oil fields are found and depleted. Improvements in computer modeling, materials and the application of statistics, probability analysis, and new technologies like horizontal drilling and enhanced oil recovery, have drastically improved the toolbox of the petroleum engineer in recent decades.

As mistakes may be measured in millions of dollars, petroleum engineers are held to a high standard. Deepwater operations can arguably be compared to space travel in terms of technical challenges. Arctic conditions and conditions of extreme heat have to be contended with. High Temperature and High Pressure (HTHP) environments that have become increasingly commonplace in today's operations require the petroleum engineer to be savvy in topics as wide ranging as thermohydraulics, geomechanics, and intelligent systems.

Petroleum engineers must implement high technology plans with manpower and high coordination, often in dangerous conditions. The drilling rig crew and machines they use become the remote partner of the petroleum engineer in implementing every drilling program. Understanding and accounting for the issues and communication challenges of building these teams remain just as vital to the petroleum engineer as ever.

The Society of Petroleum Engineers is the largest professional society for petroleum engineers and publishes much information concerning the industry. Petroleum engineering education is available at 17 universities in the United States and many more throughout the world - primarily in oil producing states - but not only top producers, and some oil companies have considerable in house petroleum engineering training classes.

Petroleum engineers have historically been one of the highest paid engineering disciplines; this is offset by a tendency for mass layoffs when oil prices decline. According to a survey published in September 2007 the average income is USD$122,458. In a June 4th, 2007 article, reported that Petroleum Engineering was the 24th best paying job in the United States.


Petroleum engineers divide themselves into several types:

  • Reservoir engineers work to optimize production of oil and gas via proper well placement, production levels, and enhanced oil recovery techniques.
  • Drilling engineers manage the technical aspects of drilling both production and injection wells.
  • Production engineers manage the interface between the reservoir and the well, including 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).

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