On the Job
Petroleum engineers plan and supervise the drilling of new oil wells. They also supervise well operation and maintenance.
Petroleum, which literally means "rock oil," was first drilled in 1859 by Colonel Edwin Drake in Titusville, Pennsylvania. At that time, petroleum was valued because kerosene was made from it. At the time, kerosene was the primary fuel for lamps. In fact, gasoline was a by-product of the process used to make kerosene, and didn't become important until decades later, when automobiles were developed. Nowadays, petroleum is used for many things, from fueling cars to creating new synthetic fabrics.Petroleum engineers receive information from coworkers about where underground pools of oil may be located. Their job is to determine how to remove the most oil for the lowest cost. They begin by analyzing data about the oil. They look at the depth of the oil, the type of rock around it, and the surface of the land above the oil. Then they determine where the wells should go and what processes are needed to force the oil to the surface. Once they have this information, engineers estimate how much money it will take to remove the oil. They also consider how much money the oil will sell for. If the oil will bring enough of a profit, they finalize the plans for removing the oil. This includes writing reports for coworkers about the plan. Petroleum engineers may also talk to scientific, engineering, and technical personnel to solve design problems.
At the drill site, petroleum engineers supervise the drilling operations. Those who specialize in this part of the operation are called drilling engineers. They coordinate the activities of all the workers at the site and assign tasks to workers. They supervise the construction of the drilling platform and inspect it once it is complete. Engineers also test drilling machinery and equipment to make sure they are working properly and safely. When drilling begins, they determine the drill rate. Drilling engineers also monitor how much oil is produced. They interpret this drilling and testing information for coworkers. Drilling engineers decide whether additional work must be done to increase the flow of gas. Once the gas is flowing at an acceptable rate, engineers plan and supervise the operation and maintenance of the well.
Some petroleum engineers specialize in finding oil. Petrophysical engineers study the rock in which oil deposits are found. They determine how much oil the rock holds and how easily the oil moves through the rock. Geological engineers attempt to map the oil field to determine the size, shape, and volume of the deposit. Reservoir engineers use computer models to estimate the amount of oil that can be recovered. They monitor the amount of oil remaining in a reservoir and re-evaluate the recovery methods.
Other petroleum engineers, known as research engineers, develop and modify the methods and equipment used in oil production. They run tests on equipment and analyze the results. They may also consult with drilling engineers and help them solve problems with equipment that is in use.
There are additional specialties of petroleum engineers. Some petroleum engineers work in refineries. They determine the best use for products. They examine the makeup of products, technical factors, and market potential. Sales engineers sell equipment and provide technical services to oil companies and drilling contractors.
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.
- Determine the profitability of an oil field. Estimate the cost of getting the product to the surface versus the price that will be received for the product.
- Monitor production rates. Determine how to increase the flow of oil.
- Analyze data to determine the best placement of wells and what processes are needed to force oil to the surface.
- Design and supervise changes made to wells. Determine how to increase the amount of oil and gas recovered.
- Direct evaluations, testing, and surveys of wells.
- Assist engineering and other personnel in solving operating problems.
- Develop plans for oil field drilling, and for product recovery and treatment.
- Keep records of drilling and production operations.
- Confer with others to solve design, research, and testing problems.
- Write technical reports for engineering and management personnel.
- Interpret drilling and testing information for coworkers.
- Create environmental controls on oil and gas operations.
- Coordinate the installation, maintenance, and operation of equipment.
- Supervise the removal of drilling equipment and waste. Make sure the land is stable once drilling is complete.
- Inspect oil wells to make sure they are working properly.
- Evaluate findings to develop, design, or test equipment or processes.
- Assign work to staff to obtain the best use of time.
- Coordinate activities of workers engaged in research, planning, and development.
- Use computers to test different drilling techniques.
- Take samples in order to test oil, and determine the equipment needed for removal.
People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Use computers.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Analyze data or information.
- Communicate with supervisors, peers, or subordinates.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Estimate sizes, quantities, time, cost, or materials needed.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Process information.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Coordinate the work and activities of others.
- Establish and maintain relationships.
- Document and record information.
- Explain the meaning of information to others.
- Provide advice and consultation to others.
- Judge the value of objects, services, or people.
- Schedule work and activities.
- Develop and build teams.
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Have a medium level of social contact. They talk to coworkers, but also spend time alone analyzing information.
- Are responsible for the work done by drilling crews.
- Are sometimes placed in conflict situations.
- Are responsible for the health and safety of drilling crews.
- Communicate with coworkers daily by telephone, e-mail, or in person.
- Write letters and memos on a weekly basis.
- Work in a group or as part of a team.
- Almost always work indoors in labs and offices. May on occasion work outdoors at drilling sites and in oil fields.
- Work with coworkers, but in a separate office or many feet apart.
- Must be very exact in their work. Errors could cause teams to drill where oil is not located. This would cost the company a lot of money.
- Repeat the same tasks over and over, such as supervising drilling operations.
- Make decisions on a weekly basis that strongly impacts coworkers and the company.
- Rarely consult with a supervisor before setting their tasks and goals for the day. They can usually make most decisions without consulting with a supervisor.
- Are moderately competitive. They may compete with other companies.
- Must meet strict deadlines on a weekly basis.
- Generally have a set schedule each week. Most work more than 40 hours a week.
- May work seven days a week, if working at a drill site as a drilling engineer.
- May be on-call in case of emergencies or changes in drilling conditions.
- May travel to remote areas and stay there for extended periods.
Physical Work Conditions
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Sit for long periods of time.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- See details of objects whether they are nearby or far away.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
- Use fingers to grasp, move, or assemble very small objects.
- Hear sounds and recognize the difference between them.
- Focus on one source of sound and ignore others.
- Determine the distance between objects.
- Make quick, precise adjustments to machine controls.
People in this career frequently:
It is important for people in this career to be able to:
It is not as important, but still necessary, for people in this career to be able to:
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.