Studying petroleum engineering
Find out if petroleum engineering is the right field for you.
At a glance
Petroleum engineering involves conducting studies for oil and gas exploration, development and extraction, supervising and determining methods of drilling, well completion and testing as well as monitoring production operations in collaboration with geologists.
Petroleum engineering has its roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the form of the need to apply technology to oilfield development – initially through improving the mechanical operations used for drilling and well pumping, and later branching into other areas like production and rock-fluid systems.
Inside the programme
The overall aim of a typical degree programme, which takes about four years to complete, is to introduce students to advanced technologies. The syllabus includes the following areas of study – basic science, basic petroleum engineering and advanced hands-on practical training.
Some programmes also provide the additional aspects of managing petroleum assets, enabling students to expand on their technical and management skills. In the various universities that offer petroleum engineering, the subject is still generally supported by the geology departments.
Subjects studied in a petroleum engineering course include non-petroleum science subjects; mathematics; physics; mechanics and strength of materials; chemistry, environmental science and technology; numerical and computing methods etc – as well as basic petroleum engineering subjects: introduction to petroleum engineering; petrology; thermodynamics; principles of well drilling; basics of reservoir engineering; rock and fluid properties; oil and gas production; drilling engineering etc.
When choosing a course, students should look for those that provide lots of laboratory and hands-on fieldwork.
Students who are interested in this particular field must have good A level or STPM results in the subjects of physics, chemistry and mathematics.
As knowledge of the fundamentals of exact sciences is of utmost importance for petroleum engineers, an interest in the sciences, as well as a good foundation in subjects such as physics, chemistry and mathematics are essential in order to excel in this area of study. This programme is also for those with a keen interest in simulation and design.
Courage and confidence is also needed as the drilling for oil and gas is an expensive affair. Only the brave will be able to make decisions and deals that could cost millions of dollars. Thus, the profession is demanding, but can be very rewarding.
Working in petroleum engineering
There is a great worldwide demand for petroleum engineering graduates. Generally, a good number of them are able to get employment offers even before they graduate.
Companies interested in employing petroleum engineers are numerous and include those involved in the following:
- Well completion
- Formation analysis
- Well logging
- Reservoir simulation
- Enhanced oil recovery (EOR), Improved Oil Recovery (IOR) and Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery (MEOR) methods in the recovery of oil and gas.
Careers in petroleum engineering
Drilling engineer: works with geologists, geophysicists and drilling teams to design and supervise drilling operations.
Production engineer: involved in the development of production processes and equipment for oil and gas production including transportation.
Reservoir engineer: concerned with optimising the development of hydrocarbon reservoirs.
Petroleum engineers are strongly advised to join professional societies such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), as they offer educational courses and keep members up-to-date with the latest developments within this area of work.
Specialisations in petroleum engineering
- Oil and gas drilling engineer
- Petroleum engineer (General)
- Completion petroleum engineer
- Oil and gas production engineer
- Petroleum reservoir engineer
- Sub-sea engineer
- Management of reservoirs
- Reservoir simulation.
Hikmat Said Sulaiman Al-Salim is currently the head of the chemical/petrochemical department at UCSI University. He graduated with special honours from London University and has completed his PhD research in Adhesive Bonding of Titanium Alloys (Industrial Surface Chemistry) there.