Paul Willhite with two students working in the senior petroleum lab in Slawson Hall

Why you should choose Petroleum Engineering!

About the major

Every credible energy expert believes that the foreseeable national and global energy future, like the present, will be shaped predominantly by fossil energy. In spite of public perception, fossil fuels are, in fact, a blessing. Imagine a world without airplanes, automobiles, trucks to deliver goods, tractors to plow fields, factories to make goods, asphalt highways on which to deliver goods, plastics, cosmetics, clean-burning energy delivered to the home in pipes. Petroleum engineering plays a major role in shaping the modern society by providing advanced technology to keep the supply and demand of crude oil met at the national and at the global level. 

Petroleum industry has always enjoyed a powerful status in shaping societies in the past and is expected to do so in foreseeable future. The history behind goes back to more than one-and-half century. In Titusville, Pennsylvania, using the same technology as they used to drill for water, producers excavated the first successful oil well on August 27, 1859 at sixty-nine feet below the surface of the earth. Nowadays, oil wells are drilled several miles beneath the earth surface. Horizontal well technology has advanced to the level that we could aim formation within a couple of feet located at a distance a couple of miles away from the point of penetration. This makes it technically and economically feasible to exploit deep off-shore reservoirs.

Petroleum engineers have come a long way from just drilling a hole under ground to produce oil by its natural energy, to very sophisticated enhanced oil technology, to actually pushing oil from an injector well to a producer. There are even more challenging tasks ahead for a young graduate in petroleum engineering today. Petroleum engineering education provides a wide spectrum of specialties to keep the industry running. These are reservoir engineering, drilling engineering, and production engineering to name a few. A reservoir engineer determines the oil in place and devises the most appropriate technology to produce the oil within the prevailing economical environment. Advanced reservoir simulators provide computer models that could predict the performance of the recovery techniques over a period of many years in future. Reservoir engineers are responsible for predicting the recoverable oil and gas from the reservoir. This is crucial for the company investment in the project and to predict the future profit while minimizing the risk of the investment for the company.

The job of a drilling engineer is to design and calculate all the necessary parameters to drill a successful well with the minimum cost. Drilling is the most expensive part of reservoir development. Drilling a well could cost multi-million dollars depending on the complexity of the design and the formation. A drilling engineer must insure the safety of the operation and the environmental protection must always be the forefront of the drilling design.

After the well is drilled and completed, the production engineer takes over the responsibility of production from the reservoir. Responsibility of the production engineer is to bring hydrocarbon to the surface in a most efficient way. Production engineer analyzes, interprets, and optimizes the performance of each individual wells. Development of the field and increasing the efficiency of the field production is also a joint responsibility of the production engineer and the reservoir engineer. That is why a production engineer is to interact with reservoir engineer on daily basis. Development of the field is affected by a wide variety of the parameters in addition to the market value of the crude oil. These parameters include crude oil viscosity, gas/oil ratio, depth and the type of the formation and the project economics to name a few. Design and selection of the surface equipment such as stock tank and separators to separate oil, gas, and water are also the responsibility of the production engineer. As the field matures, the production engineer will be responsible for exploring additional technologies to enhance production from wells that are declining. Each field is unique and even each well is unique, that is why a production engineer must interact closely with reservoir engineers and those in other disciplines to determine the optimal approach for that particular field.

The average starting salary for the graduating Class of 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering was $78,541.