Oil Comp Engr
35 Years Experience
I have worked at a major integrated oil company for over 30 years. I have degrees in Civil and Petroleum Engineering. I currently work with safety, health and environmental management systems. I have worked in operations and safety in both the upstream (finding and producing oil and gas) and downstream (refining, chemicals and distributions) areas. I have travelled all over the world. I enjoy my job but have endured both good & bad business cycles as well as good and bad managers.
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Generally, I would say yes. However, it depends on what positions are available and what the company's philosophy is. Given the choice, I would recommend it is best to get as much field experience as you can, be it at a rig, a production facility, a gas plant, etc. There will always be opportunities for office work but as you get older, have kids, etc., hit gets harder to be in the field away from your family. Also, although many of the major business decisions are made in the office, good decisions depend on a deep understanding of how things work in the field and what can and cannot be done.
I think there is very good growth potential because there are a lot engineers in the industry in the 50 to 60 year age bracket who are getting ready to retire. Due to the cyclical nature of the oil business, there is not an even distribution of folks across all age ranges. People in our industry commonly talk about the "great crew change" that is coming and most of the major oil companies and large service companies have increased hiring in the last 5 years because they realize that ten engineers with 4 years of experience do not equal one engineer with 40 years of experience.
If you work for a major integrated oil company you could be doing any of their entry level engineering jobs. Suggest you check out their recruiting websites for more details.
Chemical Engineering is going to focus on understanding chemical reactions used in industrial processes, how to optimize them, predict outcomes, understand potential hazards, etc. Petroleum engineering will cover geology, well construction, estimating reserves, economics, some chemical reaction / surface facility design (but in less detail than in chemical engineering) and some tranportation/logistics. Personally, I would recommend chemical engineering because it makes you appealing to a broader selection of jobs and companies. However, if you KNOW you want to be in the Upstream Oil and Gas business OR if you know you want to go on to get a law degree and practice oil and gas law, then I would recommend Petroleum Engineering. Starting salaries for Petroleum Engineers is hovering near the six figure mark right now, but Chemical Engineers are not very far behind. After a few years on the job, that tends to even out and folks are paid based on their contributions not their degree. Our business is cyclic and always has been. The cycle is favorable right now BUT when there is a downturn, Petroleum Engineers are not in demand and the degree is not as favorable. Upstream Oil and Gas companies will always want to hire and train chemical engineers but the reverse is not true - Chemical companies rarely want to hire and train Petroleum Engineers. The ideal situation would be to get a chemical engineering degree and do internships at an Oil and Gas company to make sure this is the profession you want to pursue.
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You can probably find a good explanation if you visit wikipedia or Society of Petroleum Engineers websites. In a nutshell, a jack-up rig has three (sometimes four) legs which penetrate the ocean floor and it does not move. The water depth in which it can drill is limited by the length of the jack up legs, generally up to 400 feet. The other types of rigs are semisubmersibles and drill ships which are, strictly speaking, vessels which are connected to the ocean floor via a riser from which it can easily disconnect. Wikipedia can do this topic much better justice than I can. The fourth common type of rig is a platform rig, which sits on a production platform and can be removed, piece by piece, when the drilling is finished. The production platform itself is a fairly permanent structure which is connected to the ocean floor.
Take as much mathematics as possible up to and including AP Calculus if offered. I would recommend basic Physics, basic Chemistry and AP Physics, if offered. If offered I would take Geology / Earth Sciences in lieu of Biology. Economics, if offered would be useful, but will be taught in college. Strong proficiency in writing will also be useful.
Before switching majors, I would see if you can fix the situation. if you switch majors, you might lose a lot of ground. If your professors are decent and your program is accredited, I would work with some other students and approach your engineering dean and/or career placement with some proposed solutions. Do you have a student section of SPE? If not, consider chartering one; see if you can get local professionals to come give lectures and help with resumes, interviewing and finding internships; ; SPE might be able to connect you with a retired petroleum engineer who lives in your area that would be willing to help; consider some joint activities with geology majors; if you are successful, you will have an impressive achievement for your résumé. Future employers want to see that you take on a tough problem, show some creativity and solve it. It is about more than just mastering the technical topics And getting good grades in your courses. It is about showing that you can work with others and improve things. Best of luck to you.
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