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Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

(OP)
Hi Guys,

I am writing to see what kind of experiences you all have had in the petroleum business. I am considering moving on to an MS in Petroleum Engineering after my undergraduate Mechanical Engineering degree. The reason why I'm considering Petroleum Engineering is because I've taken an interest in fluid mechanics and mechanical design during my undergraduate courses. Obviously, the pay is good too. I've recently taken a petroleum production engineering class to familiarize myself with the PE career field. I'll be moving on to a drilling engineering class (tech elective) this fall to wrap up my ME degree.

My questions are:

Between the upstream and downstream jobs, what is a good area to get into for an entry level position? Since I'm younger, I imagine a little field work wouldn't hurt, but I'm thinking long term as well when I'm older and have a family. Any advice or areas I should look in to, please mention it.

Would it be beneficial for an engineer to become a certified welder, or is it one job or the other (no middle ground)? (kinda something I want to do as a personal goal anyway)

What are some of the top companies to work for and why? I understand this is only your opinion, I'm not trying to start anything among the professionals on this forum.

If you'd like to add any additional information or opinions not mentioned, that would help too.

Thank you for any reply!

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

A PetEng degree is not required to work in Oil and Gas. I can think of few things more worthless than a BSME and MSPE with no intervening work experience.

Most people working as Production Engineers have undergraduate degrees in ME, ChemEng, or CivilEng. I'd say that population of people with PetEng degrees is under 30%.

All of the majors (and most of the large independents) have a 2-4 year intern program where you attend a bunch of required classes and have job assignments under an assigned mentor. At the end of that period you go to work. The programs range from pretty good to really crappy depending mostly on your luck in getting assigned a mentor.

In short, if you want to do fluid mechanics in Oil & Gas come ahead on as soon as you graduate. If you want to get your MS in a decade or so, it might be an asset at that time. Initially it would be a liability.

To address your specific questions:
1 For entry level, you want to get into an intern program and get exposure to a range of jobs. Downstream is dominated by ChemEng and very strict processes. Upstream is moving towards a fairly even mix of downhole and surface disciplines and moving between them is pretty easy. I would recommend that an ME stay in upstream. Very few companies hire new engineers into Ex Pat assignments because it is too hard to get work permits for a new hire. Take whatever location you can find, if you are any good you'll move 5-10 times in the first 10 years.
2. If I had a welding cert I would not put it on my resume. No knowledge is worthless, but certain skills like welding or heavy equipment operator would not help you land or keep an engineering position in this industry.
3. Start with a big company (BP, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, etc.) because their intern programs are well established and you have less chance of getting lost as a forever intern. After the internship and a couple of years actual experience looking afield is inevitable.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

(OP)
Thanks for the insight zdas04, I appreciate the time you took to respond to my post. If you don't mind answering a few more questions, I have several more...

Why do you say that an MS degree would initially be a liability? Why would an MS only be useful in a decade or so in the PE field?

I'm a veteran and I've done the military thing. I'm not looking to move around constantly, so am I looking into the wrong career field? Do ME's work in the downstream jobs (hard to get into?), or are those positions solely reserved for ChemE?

Also, excuse the ignorance, but what do you mean by "Ex Pat assignments." Are you talking about work permits for other countries that are difficult to get?

Thanks!

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

"Ex Pat" means "ex-patriot". When you have a passport from one country and are working in a second country then you are an Ex Pat. Countries want to get something for allowing foreigners to work in their country (instead of voters working), and what they expect is mentoring/tech transfer. Newby's don't have many skills to transfer and usually can't get work permits.

New hires are a liability. They can and often do grow into assets, but right in the door they don't know your systems, processes, or very much about engineering. If they have a masters degree without relevant experience then they will expect more money, but they would still be a liability. Most companies that I know will only hire an MS if they have 5+ years of relevant experience (i.e., experience that can be applied directly to the hiring company's business immediately). When I saw MS on a resume of an applicant without experience I just threw the resume in the trash, I didn't need the headaches.

There are a lot of ME's in downstream. Probably as many as half in some companies. They are still second class citizens. Just like being an EE in a vessel fab shop--you have important work to do, but idiot ME's will overrule you every day.

As far as moving goes, it is less common than when I started, but for the first 3 years or so in an intern assignment you will be required to move every year to get a new assignment. After that, it depends on the company and your desires. In 23 years I moved twice. A guy that started the same day I did moved 13 times in the same 23 years. I ended up as an individual contributor, he ended up in management making about the same salary as I was making. I had a lot of fun doing tech stuff. He got his kicks going to meetings and feeling important. Different strokes and all that.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

(OP)
Twenty Three years on the job huh. Looks like I'm talking to the right guy. I assume you've been a hiring manager? So you're saying a year and a half would be better spent gaining experience rather than going for a Master's? I'll have to consider that.

Lately I've been doing a lot of research among all the different upstream petroleum jobs. Specifically, Measurement While Drilling, Directional Drillers, and Wireline Operators. I've heard mixed reviews about each position with exception of the DD's. What is your experience and/or opinion on this? I assume someone doesn't exactly start as a DD? What are the "ranks" of the petroleum business and what is the best way to move up the ladder (starting with the 3 years intern work you mentioned)?

Alright, enough of my 20 questions. Thanks again David.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

I have been part of the hiring process several times, never had the final say.

You say your interest is fluid mechanics (which is what my MS is in). Drillers make hole. The fluids stuff they do is very pedestrian and formulaic. Wire line operators rarely have a high school education, let alone an engineering degree.

Upstream engineers fit into four broad categories:

    Reservoir Engineer
    Drilling Engineer
    Production Engineer
    Facilities Engineer
It is rare for a new hire to start out in either of the first two. Most Reservoir Engineers started life as Production Engineers, got 4-5 years experience, maybe an MS in PetEng and move into Reservoir--and then NEVER get out again.

It is also rare for a new hire to start in a Drilling Engineer job. Most drillers start out as Production Engineers and slide into a drilling job after 2-3 years--and drilling is even harder to get out of than reservoir. Advanced degrees (or having all your fingers) seem to be a detriment to success as a driller. Drillers are truly the nomads of the industry. I've never known one who didn't habitually keep a bag packed. One guy I met in Egypt hadn't spent a week in the states in 10 years, I later ran into him in three other countries.

New guys start out as either Production Engineers or (increasingly) as Facilities Engineers. Historically, Production Engineers have ruled the roost and Facilities guys just did projects (no Facilities Engineers with operational responsibilities prior to about 1990). Today most Facilities Engineers are still working projects, but nearly a third of the companies I work with have Field-Facilities Engineers that have responsibility both for day-to-day operations, and also for identifying, designing, and implementing smaller projects (say under $5 million). This is what I did for my last 12 years and I can't imagine a better job for a fluids guy.

Production Engineers are responsible for production and usually have control over liquids lifting, downhole work, and production forecasts.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

(OP)
Thanks for laying that out for me. I'm definitely looking for a job that will utilize my degree. You've been most helpful. We have a good amount of petroleum company recruiters that come to our university several times a year during our job fairs, so that will be my next stop. Thanks again David.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

I'll give my two cents for what it's worth. I have a BSCE and a PE, worked in commercial development (nothing at all related to oil and gas) for 10 years, then got a job working for a large pipeline transmission company. To get into oil and gas you really don't need an advanced degree. I didn't even really need the PE. It probably makes more sense to try and work for a someone first then see if you want to get more education. I have probably received more education at this job then a degree woudl have offered me. The jobs are out there, but you probably have to be willing to relocate depending on where you are.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

(OP)
Thank you trey25624. All advice and opinions are welcome on this thread.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

To join in on this - when doing the internship, do you travel often/a lot? Reason why I ask is I just finished up with my BsME and, well I still work in IT ( sort of hard to ditch making twice as much in IT to do an entry level ME job ) but working in oil does catch my interest and shows promise of a career where one could move up.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

Stormhammer,
If you have a problem with relocating, don't consider Oil & Gas. When I started, managers regularly called people up and said "Your paycheck is in [fill in dirtbag location], if you want it show up for work there on Monday". It isn't that bad any more, but physical location for an engineer is far from stable.

The intern programs are all over the map, but most of them require you to spend 1-2 years in basically an EIT position under a mentor (some are better, some are worse, some are downright horrible), and most of the programs require 3 different positions in different locations. This means that if you are on the fast track you will move every year for three years and then move to your first real position. After that you may or may not find geographical stability. Depends on you and on the needs of the company.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

Well, when you say relocating - are we talking about up in the barren regions ( e.g. Alaska, Oil Sands, Bering Sea ) or cities ( e.g. Baton Rouge, Houston, etc )

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

Sure. Either. Both. People are developing Oil & Gas all over the world from the arctic circle to Tierra del Fuego, and pretty much everywhere in between. Offshore Brazil is hopping right now, so is Shale in China and oil in North Dakota. When the North Sea fields were first developed Aberdeen was a very small town with almost no industrial infrastructure. Now it is a major industrial center. If you had been sent there in the late 1960's it would have felt much like Caspar, WY with green stuff. Today it is more like Pittsburgh.

If you want to put conditions on where you go, enter a field that is tied to a geographical location (maybe become a farmer or blacksmith?).

If you want to go into Oil & Gas, plan on not having much control over where you live.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

Hi guys

Good thread going here

Im 24, currently 2nd year engineering down under here in Australia. Have always been keen on O&G industry and at present Aus is shaping up to be a huge exporter of natural gas so this is an area i'd like to be in. I was planning to do a MSPE after I finished, right up until I read David's post re MSPE not being suitable without intervening work experience. It makes perfect sense really, but I just never realized it.

So my few questions

1. Im stuck between Mech and civil. Will the advantages/disadvantages of doing either be negligible? It seems they all start on the same page.

2. If an MSPE is not desirable with no experience, how does one go about maximizing their chances as Pet engineer as a straight civ or mech? I actually though that the whole reason for the masters was to slot into a petroleum engineer role specifically but have now realized that this can be done as a fresh grad because regardless, no new guy is going to know the systems/how shits done. Its fierce competition to get into oil and gas, apart from vac work what else could i work toward during my undergrad years to make employers take notice

3. Are their any niche area's i should studying in to get an edge (shale gas?)

A lot of companies in Aus are from the land of the free. Chevron, halliburton, exxonmobil, bechtel, conoco are all here in some form or another, so I'd say the O&G industry in Aus would be similar if not identical to you guys stateside in how they do things.

Many thanks for your time folks :)

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

I do a lot of work with Australian companies in Brisbane and Melbourne. I spent some time this Spring with a senior Facilities Engineer working CSG (CBM to the rest of the world) out of Brisbane. His read was that their main criteria for hiring Engineers right now was a diploma and a pulse (not necessarily in that order). Manpower in this industry at every level is so short that they are hiring field operators from the States and paying to move them to Brisbane (the actual field work is either 7 and 7 or 14 and 14 in man camps in the interior). This is a great time to be looking for an entry level position in Oil & Gas down under.

There are Civil Engineers in Oil and Gas, I met one once. They're pretty rare. It is a skill set that is used seldom enough that it generally makes more sense to hire it done by the hour rather than by the career.

ME's are ubiquitous. The work is more about fluids than HVAC or Mechanisms. A couple of extra Fluids and/or Thermodynamics classes go a long ways towards making you stand out from the herd and showing you are serious. I never saw a resume where an ME went over to PetEng and took a "Fluid Flow through Permeable Media" kind of course, but that would stand out like a beacon.

The first week of a Petroleum Geology course would be kind of useful, but the rest of the semester would be a waste of time (no you can't make points by studying "Shale Gas"). The "niche" you need to target is incompressible flow of a compressible media within a conduit. Getting your head around that is the key to 70% of what I've done in my career.

Good luck.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

Thanks for your words David, appreciated

I actually live in Brisbane, and yeah coal seam gas (are we the only people who call it that?) is shaping up to be big. Im hearing you regarding the industry screaming to the high heavens for personnel, its pretty nuts. If you've got experience its great but for graduates its at the other end of the spectrum with O&G companies picky with who they choose out of university.

I dont wish to pester you any further, but from your perspective do you see the shortage of engineers in O&G continuing for the next 5-10 years? Will the demand be met? Trying not to play the devils advocate here but the shortage means desperately high salaries which I find rather delightful.

Thanks again.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

Yes, you are the only ones who call CBM CSG. Not sure why you started down that road, but I don't think you're going to change.

My crystal ball didn't predict downturns in 1986 or 2008, or how long it was going to take for natural gas prices to recover from 2008 so I'm probably not the best qualified prognosticator. My read is that everyone from the generation before mine (Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation", people who were adults during WWII) is gone (most from this world, many just from working for a living). My generation (the Baby Boomers) is getting really old. We're in all kinds of senior positions, or retired and consulting, or (increasingly) just retired.

Starting in 1986 and continuing till about 2000, the industry was in a serious depression. Very limited hiring. Significant capital constraints. From 2000 to 2008 the industry was booming, and hiring was brisk, but it really feels like too little too late. I see major shortages of technical manpower issues for at least another decade. That means two things: (1) companies tend to get less picky; and (2) talent commands big money.

This seems to be a much better time to get into Oil & Gas than 5 years from now since there are still some experienced people around to help you through the rocks and shoals. In 5 years we'll mostly be really retired and a lot of us no longer among the living.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

"When I started, managers regularly called people up and said "Your paycheck is in [fill in dirtbag location], if you want it show up for work there on Monday"

I'll echo that. It didn't happen to me because I didn't work for any of the majors but I've heard other co-workers talk about it. One guy in Saudi worked for Chevron and it happened several times to him, he got called in and essentially was told 'your job is finished, be xyz on Monday if you want a job', his wife got to pack up and sell the house. I get the feeling it's not as common now but I work for an EPC company at a local BP Refinery (among others) and their people if you get tagged as a up and comer can be moved a lot. That wasn't unique to the oil and gas industry, there's the old joke that IBM stood for "I've Been Moved". On the plus side, the relocation packages are a lot better now.

"Starting in 1986 and continuing till about 2000, the industry was in a serious depression"

I'd take it farther back than that. I graduated in 1981 and was the last 'good' year with multiple offers, companies desperate to hire anyone, much like been used to describe the engineering job market today in Australia and some places in US and Canada (and likely other places around the world, I'm just not up on say the European job market). In 1982, I would estimate less than 1/2 of the class behind me found jobs and it didn't improve for a while. 1984 and later was sort of up and down, things would improve to some extent and then another downturn. 1999 was ugly, I took an assignment in Indonesia as otherwise I knew I would get laid off as my company was doing some major downsizing.

Companies are going to look at the bottom line. When things change, and they will, they'll suddenly decide you cost a lot of money, they have no work for you and thank you very much. As said, I work for the EPC world and I understand why, no jobs means no multiplier on rates and you as the boss/owner simply have no money to pay people on overhead.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

I started with Amoco in 1980, and we hired pretty steadily up until 1986 (the group I was in ran one of the new-hire basic courses and the number of times it was scheduled per year was very stable up until 1986, then it was cancelled altogether). In 1986 Amoco had the first set of layoffs in the company's history. The industry went from over 500,000 workers in the U.S. at the start of 1986 to under 150,000 workers in the U.S. by the end of 1986. Everything before that was pretty small beans. Managers that went through that were reluctant to hire for the rest of their lives.

Staffing levels continued to drop (mostly by attrition) to under 100,000 in the U.S. by about 1992. By 1996 people were realizing that there was a 10 year gap in hiring and that when the staff that survived the purges started reaching retirement age there was going to be problems. Hiring slowly increased after 1996, but there were a couple of "minor" purges (if you are the one layed off, it looks like a 100% staff reduction) before 2000, but in general the population was increasing to nearly 200,000 in 2000. By 2008 the U.S. Oil & Gas industry was back over 300,000, but after the global economic crises it dropped to around 250,000. I haven't had much reason to look at labor statistics much since 2008, but the feeling I get is that the numbers are back above 2000 levels today.

In my mind the sea-change events in the industry were 1986 (first across the board lay-offs), 2003 (first $10/MCF gas), and 2008 (Global Economic Crises).

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

(OP)
Based on what you said, are engineers just as likely to be layed off as anyone else? Does the expression "Last hired, first fired" have any truth to it in this industry?

Also, I've been looking into several utility companies that supply natural gas to cities/states/counties/ etc... and most have their own natural gas reservoirs/wells. From what I've read and people I've talked to, these type of companies seem to have good job security. What is your take on the gas utility companies?

(trying to educate myself on all the possible options of the Gas/Oil career field)

Thanks again for your time!

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

I attend the University of Central Florida and am very interested in the profession of Petroleum Engineering. I am currently a Mechanical Engineering major in my first year. Before I start any real core classes, which would you think is the best education for being a Petroleum Engineer: Energy Systems, Materials Systems, or Mechanical Systems? These are all subsets of the Mechanical Engineering major.

Thanks - Robert

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

1982 was also a bad year...I was laid off that summer, along with many. Nothing was as bad as '86 though.....

One important distinction in job security is the difference between up and downstream. Upstream will lay you off in the middle of the night, or during a coffee break. The first thing that happens in bad oil economy is they stop turning the drill bit to the right; and the rigs start laying over and all of the support/service companies fall over like dominos.

I have been lucky enough to stay employed for the last 30 years, mainly because I have floated back and forth between up and downstream. I have a BS in PetE from A&M and spent most all the earlier years "makin' hole". As much as I do prefer the upstream side; (more unique, interesting, challenging than just about any industry period), I still like to eat, and downstream (refinery/petrochem) provides much more stable atmosphere, a bit more insulated from shocks to the oil economy.

I took my knowledge of mechanical equipment from the drilling side and used it in the field of Rotating Equipment in the downstream side; got really sick of missing Little League games, etc. There is a whole world of engineering in designing, monitoring, improving huge HP machinery spinning ultra fast; lots of things can blow up...fun, fun, fun. While not as "glamorous" (HaHa) as the drilling industry, your children will recognize you and your family may actually stay together.

If you don't mind being away from home at least 6 mos a year for maybe 5-8 years, then go for the upstream side; it is definitely more interesting and unique; great stuff for the young. By the way, "world travel" in the drilling biz is not going to Paris to hang out at coffee shops and whistle at pretty girls. You will be stuck for the most part in some craphole part of the world on a platform or location far from civilization. Take a lot of good books and do your time; you WILL be rewarded later on.



RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

The cuts in 1982 were very company specific (no layoffs at all at one company, big hits at the next) and the companies that weren't laying off were hiring. The feeling I got at the time was that there were more open slots looking for people than people looking for slots. In 1986, virtually all of the companies in Oil & Gas were either laying off or had frozen hiring. That led to joke that every shoe salesman in Denver, New Orleans, Tulsa, or Houston had a Geoology, Geophysics, or PetEng degree in 1987.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

All,

My $0.02 worth. I grew up on drilling rigs, started out way too young throwing spinning chain for uncles and dad at 16, but they must have been good teachers, I still have all ten fingers. The O&G industry, especially the upstream 'oil patch' will go boom or bust about once every 10 years or so. But when it's good, you can make a truck load of money and get to see some of the worst hellholes on this earth.

If I were in my twenties, and trying to decide which engineering field I might want to pursue, I would take a serious look at a BS Chem.Eng. Their starting salaries are 15-25% above just about all others, and with a little wrangling, you can shuttle between the upstream, mid-stream, and downstream sectors.

But you will also be given the opportunity to see some of those less than spectacular sites.

Good luck and enjoy which ever path you follow, because you only get one ride on the merry-go-round.

RE: Petroleum Engineering Degree and Job Market?

rklts is right on....that is.....speaking as a former chain chunker who still has ten fingers. Enjoyed my time as a worm-corner-latch-hand, chunkin' chain, and rackin' pipe on the monkey board... I hated it, but I miss those days.

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