Petroleum Engineering Digs Deep for Talent

By Cindy Atoji

“Unlike some engineering disciplines, where hiring is actually down and wages are flat, petroleum engineers are rock stars.”
— Carles Miller, Director, NSBE Energy Special Interest Group

“I enjoy tackling real-world problems and delivering smart energy solutions to help power and improve people’s lives.”
— NSBE member Matt Jackson, Penn State University

Warner Williams

Oluwademilade Adebola Awolaja

Ray Dempsey Jr.

It’s been said that oil makes the world go ’round. More than 300 products are derived from petroleum, from gasoline to basketballs, trash bags to electric blankets. The petroleum industry is one of the largest and most critical in the U.S. today, and the companies involved depend on many types of professionals, among them, skilled technicians, operators, finance professionals and, perhaps most important, petroleum engineers.

“As global energy needs develop and change, so does the demand for innovative, sustainable solutions to power tomorrow,” says Warner Williams, vice president of Chevron Corporation’s Gulf of Mexico Business Unit. “Petroleum engineering is the opportunity to contribute to the welfare of people everywhere; a chance to utilize the benefits of technology and a conduit to allow you to travel the world, making lifelong connections.”

From remote offshore platforms in the Atlantic Ocean to the rugged North Slope of Alaska, petroleum engineers are engaged in energy resources development and production. These tasks can include anything from exploring oil fields for production to optimizing drilling and petroleum-producing operations. Petroleum engineers such as NSBE member Uduak Ntuk, 34, a petroleum engineer with the City of Long Beach, undertake complex jobs related to new well development, alternative repair strategies for failed or broken wells, and ways to maximize oil and gas recovery. In the eight years that Ntuk has been in the industry, he’s seen an expansion to a more interdisciplinary approach that involves geologists, information technology technicians and systems engineers, as well as mechanical, chemical and electrical engineers.

“The ‘digital oil field of the future’ is on its way, an automation of the oil fields that will use fuzzy logic, artificial intelligence and remote control to increase efficiency and reduce risk,” says Ntuk.


The oil and gas industries in the U.S. have seen vast fluctuations in hiring, triggered by oil gluts and shortages and the resulting price changes. But the oil boom is on again, and this time it shows no sign of trickling away. The demand for oil worldwide is strong and projected to rise far into the future. And new hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques are addressing that demand by tapping deep reserves that were previously untouchable. Petroleum engineers are expected to see job growth of 17 percent until 2020, according to the U.S. Occupational Outlook Handbook, and a report from NSBE’s Membership Department shows the number of NSBE members in the field is steadily increasing. Only 24 members had petroleum engineering bachelor’s degrees or were working toward them in 2006–07. That was .1 percent of the total membership. Last year, the number had grown to 332, or 1.2 percent of the members.

“Unlike some engineering disciplines, where hiring is actually down and wages are flat, petroleum engineers are rock stars,” says Carles Miller, who is director of the Energy Special Interest Group of NSBE’s Alumni Extension, and a business development manager of the energy group at Burns & McDonnell Engineering Company. That rock star status shows up in average petroleum engineering salaries, which start at $97,900 and rise to $155,000 by mid-career, according to the salary data website PayScale.


Petroleum engineers are constantly working not only to develop new systems that extract a higher percentage of resources but also to improve the sustainability and safety of the process. Oluwademilade Adebola Awolaja, 18, a NSBE member and future petroleum engineer at the Colorado School of Mines, says she chose her field because she hopes to bring an innovative touch to the way is drilling is done in her native Nigeria.

What is the future of this diverse and ever-evolving industry? Ray Dempsey Jr., an engineering executive and 23-year veteran of BP, the British multinational oil and gas company, says growth of the world population and world economy will drive up energy demand, and that the challenge of the future is to find a way to meet that need safely and responsibly.

“This translates into a huge opportunity for using extraordinary innovation as we use energy every day to make our lives more productive and richer,” says Dempsey. “We need engineers and others who are willing to step forward and lead.”

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