If you wondering what the highest paying job you can get straight out of college is based only on the degree, it appears that job would be petroleum engineering. Initial offers for fresh graduates from New Mexico Technical College in Socorro, NM is above $80,000.00 per year. That is over $1500 per week and it is safe to assume the same rate goes for the University of Oklahoma Petroleum Engineering program graduates. Not bad for a 4 year degree, with the additional boost students can get from AP classes and now the dual credit courses between High School and a nearby community college, it is not unreasonable that the years post high school getting a bachelors degree from a state university would be less than 4 years. Many of the freshman and sophomore courses required at all state universities can be taken at most local community colleges.
Petroleum engineering is not just about the money. It’s specialty is the major energy source for all transportation. This transportation is not just required to get you around in the family vehicle but it is required to move all the goods and products we all rely on for just about everything in society, from the food at the local market to the materials required to build your house, car and even the very clothes you wear. Not only do we need oil to make gasoline and diesel fuel but it also is required to make jet fuel, plastic and even the asphalt we use for our roads. It is also used for home heating and to a lesser extent, electricity generation.
Petroleum engineers are trained to identify the locations where oil and gas will be found. This can be done using any combination of magnetic, gravimetric and aerial surveys. They need to understand all the issues related to different layers of rocks, sand, salt and water so that those which contain oil or gas can be identified and accessed. They are then able to team up with geologists and/or geophysicists to understand the best way to drill through the formations of rock strata in a cost effective way. They are trained in both economics and the mechanics of drilling to remove the oil and gas in such a way as to make a profit and even to predict what that profit will be. This will often require testing and evaluation of the material removed during drilling to understand how the reservoir will behave when the oil and/or gas is pumped out. From this information, a mathematical model can be generated to estimate the maximum flow rates to increase the overall cost effectiveness and production of the well.
Petroleum engineers are also trained in the secondary and tertiary removal of the oil after the initial liquid is pumped out. This can include fracturing, water injection and CO2 flooding. The choices will depend on many variables such as the depth of the deposits and their form. If the material is layered, sandy, shale or tar and mixtures of the same, these considerations can drive the use of different technologies.
The academic training to do this kind of work requires extensive education in chemistry, mathematics, physics, geology, rock mechanics and thermodynamics. The four years required to get this or any engineering degree can also be a path to management or in the oil field it can lead to a role as “the company man” at a drill site.
As with almost any engineering discipline, environmental concerns have to be factored into a drilling evolution. Not only must the removal of the gas and oil turn a profit, it must meet all the state and federal requirements for safety and environmental compliance. Balancing this with all the intricacies with oil and gas explorations through the production process to final delivery can be a very involved effort.
According to the webpage of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (http://www.spe.org/), the average salary for a petroleum engineer in 2012 was $166,753.00 per year. To be able to make this kind of money as an engineer speaks to the importance of oil and gas in our economy and standard of living.