Producing oil and gas and other resources from the earth is the primary challenge of the petroleum engineer. Petroleum now provides over 70% of the world’s energy and is likely to do so for at least another 50, and probably 100, years. In a sense, no other branch of engineering is more concerned with our everyday lives. Economic and environmentally safe production of petroleum resources requires creative application of a wide spectrum of knowledge, ranging from the basic sciences of mathematics, physics, geology, and chemistry to almost all engineering disciplines (mechanical, chemical, electrical, etc.).
The petroleum engineer evaluates potential oil and gas reservoirs, oversees drilling activities, selects and implements recovery schemes, and designs surface collection and treatment facilities. The petroleum engineer increasingly uses advanced computers in this work, not only in analysis of exploration data and simulation of reservoir behavior, but also in automation of oilfield production and drilling operations. Petroleum companies own many of the world’s supercomputers.
Petroleum engineers have a future full of challenges and opportunities. They must develop and apply new technology to recover hydrocarbons from oil shale, tar sands, and offshore oil and gas fields. They must also devise new techniques to recover oil left in the ground after application of conventional producing techniques. Example of these “enhanced” recovery methods are steam injection, underground combustion, and injection of chemically treated water to release oil trapped in the pores of rock. These new methods are aimed at recovering additional petroleum from known reservoirs, beyond the 25% typically recovered with conventional technology.
Techniques developed for the recovery of petroleum will increasingly be applied to the extraction of other important minerals as in-situ uranium leaching, geothermal energy production, and coal gasification. Petroleum engineers are also able to contribute to such non-energy activities as pollutant remediation, underground waste disposal and hydrology.
Since many petroleum companies conduct worldwide operations, the petroleum engineer may have the opportunity for assignments all over the world. Petroleum engineers must solve the variety of technological, political, and economic problems encountered in these assignments. These exciting technological challenges combine to offer the petroleum engineer a most rewarding career.