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Petroleum engineering graduates are the hottest commodity in the US

Being a petroleum engineer can mean traveling to far flung drilling and well sites to develop methods for extracting, producing and refining oil and gas.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   01-07-2019

BrainGain Magazine
Students from the department of petroleum engineering at Louisiana University, in Lafayette.

With the epic US oil boom just getting started Abhay Patel pretty much guaranteed himself one of America’s best-paid post-graduate jobs before he ever set foot on campus.

“I’m really lucky. In my petroleum engineering class, a lot of us are already committed to large US companies,” said Patel, a senior at the University of Texas.

Luck has little to do with it. There is a surge in American oil production — led by big finds in the Permian Basin in West Texas.

Energy companies are racing to exploit America’s vast shale gas and oil fields, the increasing discoveries of which has upended markets and sparked the biggest drilling boom in generations. As a result, energy firms can’t hire fast enough to fill out technical positions.

Spurred by an early interest in following his father’s footsteps into the oil sector, Patel is now waiting to take a job in one the America’s most sought-after professions: petroleum engineering.

“My father worked with Engineers India Limited, a state-run company set up in the 1960s by the petroleum ministry to provide engineering and technical services to petroleum refineries,” said Patel.

“He always had a gleam in his eye when he talked about work. He thrived on the large scale of his work. I was inspired by his love for the job,” he added.

What does a petroleum engineer do?

Being a petroleum engineer can involve traveling to drilling and well sites to design and develop methods for extracting, producing and refining oil and gas. Petroleum engineers seek out oil and gas reservoirs, whether tens of thousands of feet beneath the sea or locked tight in thick shale far underground. They also design methods, equipment and processes to coax as much oil and gas as possible from those unforgiving recesses.

It’s a collaborative job as they work with geologists, geophysicists and other specialists to study layers and porosity of rock with seismic data maps and rock samples. Then they decide how to best extract oil and gas, whether by injecting water or steam or blasting cracks in the sides of wells using chemicals and sand to create fissures for oil and gas to flow.

Their roles have grown ever more crucial as the industry expands into unforgiving frontiers — ultra-deep water far offshore — and as they develop ever more high-tech methods of drilling.

Massive demand

There is a shortage of specialty engineers, so poaching is rife. Supply of talent is short, putting a premium on petroleum engineering graduates as well as industry veterans who know how to get the most value out of wells that can cost tens of millions of dollars to drill.

“We know it will be a challenge to get our share of the talent to meet our growth needs,” Frank Rudolph, executive vice president of human resources at Devon told Reuters.

A recent Schlumberger Business Consulting survey of 37 global firms found that they might have to delay projects as they can’t find enough petroleum engineers.

“The technical complexity of future oil supply requires both technology and qualified petrotechnical professionals in greater number” said Al Escher, area director of North and South America for Schlumberger Business Consulting and a petroleum engineer.

Stable and high-paying career

Salary comparison site PayScale surveyed 2.3 million graduates from over 2,700 colleges across the US and found that the highest-paying college major isn’t business, and it isn’t computer science either.

The highest-paying college major? Petroleum engineering.

According to PayScale, workers with this degree earn around $100,000 at the beginning of their careers, and an occupation-wide average of $175,000 a year.

Top US colleges

According to US News and World Report, the best college for those who want to study petroleum engineering are:

  • University of Texas (The Cockrell School of Engineering)
  • Texas A&M University in College Station
  • Stanford University in California
  • Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado
  • University of Tulsa, in Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • University of Oklahoma, in Norman, Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania State University, University Park.
  • University of Southern California (The Viterbi School of Engineering)
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