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10 Best Degrees for the Oil & Gas Industry What to study for a career in the oil and gas industry

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Oil and gas are still the primary fuel sources driving our economy, ensuring this vital sector will remain viable for many years. For this reason, employers will continue searching for skilled workers within this expanding industry.

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The most obvious area of expertise sought after by oil and gas firms is exploration. However, some of the less glamorous fields may include:

  • Engineering
  • Legal
  • Accounting
  • Administration
  • Human resources
  • Chemistry
  • Oceanography
  • Geology

The vastness of this industry opens up a wide variety of opportunities for those with the right skillset. Here, you will discover the top 10 degrees needed to enter the oil and gas industry. Then you will have the necessary information to help you decide which field of study best fits your goals.

1. Petroleum Engineering

As a petroleum engineer, you are responsible for finding the most efficient ways to extract oil or gas from a reservoir. At the highest level, you will be in charge of all facets of the exploration and drilling process.

However, during the earliest phases of your career, you will most likely specialize in one of these sub-disciplines:

Drilling engineering

Drilling engineers develop the plan for where the drilling will begin. You will be part of the team that designs the equipment, and at higher levels, you may even become the site supervisor.

This specialized discipline will allow you to work on dry land or at a drilling rig offshore. In addition, you will work collaboratively with other engineers, geologists, and management teams throughout your career.

Production engineering

Once the designs for the drilling rig are in place, the production engineer takes over. The main focus is to set up the well drilling facilities and keep track of production output. You will also keep track of fluid and waste disposal along the way.

Your knowledge of fluid dynamics comes into play as you monitor complicated hydraulics systems. You will also utilize your design skills to help build reservoir models. In most settings, you will divide your time equally between being in the office and working in the field.

Reservoir engineering

Reservoir engineers apply their scientific knowledge of geology, applied physics, and chemistry to design oil and gas reservoirs. In addition, they need a working knowledge of the complicated regulations associated with protecting the environment.

As a reservoir engineer, you will be working closely with geologists, chemists, and design engineers to develop a plan for reservoir sustainability. For this reason, you will need to be comfortable multi-tasking and finding quick solutions to any potential problems.

Petrophysical engineering

Petrophysics is the study of the physical properties of oil and gas. As someone who works in this field, you will regularly take soil and rock samples. You will then analyze the data you collect and construct reports on the feasibility of the drilling site.

A bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering will provide a good start. However, if you are going to pursue a career as a petrophysicist, you need to take electives in geology and advanced physics.

Surface facilities engineering

The facilities engineer position is more managerial than the other specialties. It involves several essential duties, such as:

  • Construction management
  • Cost tracking
  • Inventory control
  • Procurement
  • Layout planning
  • Safety programming

As a facilities engineer, you will collaborate with others to ensure full compliance with federal and state regulations. You will also be in charge of hiring others and conducting employee safety meetings.

A bachelor of science degree in petroleum engineering will prepare you for the challenges facing today’s oil and gas professionals. Although heavy on math and science, the course study also features business management and leadership, attributes necessary for coordinating engineering teams.

2. Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineers design the drilling equipment and machinery utilized by drilling engineers and technicians in the field. These important items can include:

  • Turbine engines
  • Shutoff valves
  • Pipelines
  • Tools specific to energy production
  • Specialized towing equipment

Graduates of a mechanical engineering program can find ample opportunities in the industry. Here are a few of the specialties you may want to explore.

Operation and maintenance engineer

This job is mainly for the refinery and petrochemical industries. As an operations and maintenance engineer, you will assist in the daily operations of the facility. These duties can include maintaining turbines, shutoff valves, piping, and specialty vehicles.

Equipment engineer

As an equipment manager, you are responsible for maintaining the pumping equipment used to extract the oil and gas from the earth. You also work closely with operations managers to report any deficiencies in the equipment. In addition, you may be assigned to safety or design teams as needed.

Quality control engineer

This role is probably the most important specialty within the company. Your job as a quality control inspector is to ensure the proper functioning of the pumping equipment. In addition, you work closely with the other team members to ensure full compliance according to specifications.

Design engineer

Design engineers design new equipment to use for gas and oil drilling. They also modify existing equipment to make it more efficient and functional.

These specialized fields require at least a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. The good news is that most accredited programs cover the necessary prerequisites for entry into the sector. However, some employers may want you to have a master’s degree to cover additional certifications demanded by federal law.

3. Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineers typically start as oil rig technicians assisting in the repair and design implementation. Once you have four to five years of experience, you will work up to the chief electrical engineer in charge of overseeing the rig’s electrical energy needs.

Ultimately, it is a huge responsibility. The chief electrical engineer has to ensure the safety of all electrical equipment related to the drilling equipment. One spark in the wrong place can cause a catastrophic event, causing injury or even death.

A bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering will prepare you for these challenges. Upon completing the extensive coursework, you will be able to analyze, design, and maintain electrical circuits. You will also have a thorough understanding of power supplies and thermodynamics, two vital subjects needed to prevent fire and electrical damage to equipment.

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4. Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers ensure the purity and safety of petroleum products. They are an essential team member, especially during the manufacturing process. For most major oil and gas companies, you can choose from a wide range of career options. For example:

  • Lab chemist
  • Safety engineer
  • Drilling engineer
  • Lab assistant
  • Estimate specialist

A degree in chemical engineering will prepare you for these in-demand jobs. You will also possess the required knowledge to perform drilling operations safely and efficiently.

Refinery positions often include a wide range of expectations to go with them. For example, you may be tasked with plant safety, upkeep, and system adjustments simultaneously. A degree in chemical engineering will give you a well-rounded background to complete all of these vital tasks.

5. Environmental Health Engineering

Environmental engineers are the unsung heroes of the oil and gas industry. They ensure that oil and gas companies avoid harming the environment while still making a profit. Areas of focus for these professionals are:

  • Pollution control
  • Public safety
  • Recycling efforts
  • Environmental impact studies
  • Proper waste disposal

This is a demanding role. As an environmental engineer working in the oil and gas industry, you will be called upon to find quick solutions to potential problems. You will also need the courage to boldly go before superiors if you happen to uncover potential violations of federal laws within the company.

To enter this field, you will need a background in many scientific disciplines, including:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Soil science
  • Math
  • Physics

A bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering will cover these topics. In addition, you will learn about the latest government regulations to ensure your company is operating in compliance with applicable laws.

6. Law

Oil and gas are the two most regulated industries in the U.S. For that reason, large energy firms often hire a team of attorneys to help navigate legal compliance within their daily operations. For that reason, it is best to specialize in either corporate or environmental law.

A law degree will also prepare you to be a high-level corporate manager. For example, most companies prefer a law degree when hiring a company secretary. Again, this position may sound trivial, but there are no more critical jobs within a large corporation.

For those who want to travel the world, there are plenty of opportunities for professionals with a law degree. Compliance officers and safety managers with a legal background are highly regarded within the organization.

7. Oceanography

Petroleum engineers need someone to direct them when it comes to drilling at the bottom of the ocean. That’s where the oceanographer comes in. They help oil companies decide where to drill offshore.

The job typically involves a combination of lab work and venturing out to sea for extended periods. Here is some of what you’ll do:

  • Set up research vessels and buoys
  • Collect data and compile it into reports
  • Collect water samples and take temperature measurements
  • Work in collaboration with petroleum engineers to discover new drilling sites

A bachelor of science in marine biology may not be enough for entry into the oil and gas industry. Typically, it takes that plus a master’s degree in oceanography. And although the coursework is extensive, it is one of the most rewarding for those who love the ocean and all it offers.

8. Geology

Oil and gas companies hire petroleum geologists to discover new oil and gas deposits. They also analyze the geological formations around a site to ensure the safety of workers and equipment.

As an oil and gas geologist, you will regularly collect soil samples, looking for signs of undiscovered energy sources. You will also work closely with drilling engineers to ensure the ground is stable enough for heavy drilling equipment.

You will need at least a bachelor’s degree in geology for most entry-level positions. However, your company will often require a master’s degree in geosciences to continue up the ladder.

Petroleum geologists

It is possible to earn a degree in petroleum geology. This course of study is more specific to the industry and is offered at several more prominent universities around the country. However, you can add classes to your existing program later that are specific to the oil and gas industry.

Keep in mind that most employers within the industry require a geosciences degree. Still, it is possible to enter the field with a general sciences credential as long as you take geology courses along the way. Other electives may include:

  • Mathematics
  • Earth science
  • Geography
  • Physics
  • Fluid dynamics

Your employer may also want you to have a background in hydrology as well. The good news is that there are typically plenty of classes to choose from in this specialized discipline, including elective courses.

9. Surveying

The first thing an oil or gas company has to do before drilling is to make a map of the area. This is where surveyors come in. They analyze a piece of land, including all features above and below the ground. Only then can the company drill for oil and gas safely, without harming the environment.

Your duties include surveying and mapping the following worksites:

  • Oil and gas wells
  • Mineral leases
  • Tank battery sites
  • Disposal wells
  • Pipelines

Surveyors use a wide range of tools and technologies while performing their duties. Some of those include:

  • Measuring equipment
  • GPS devices
  • 3D monitors
  • Electronic distance measuring (EDM) equipment
  • Various tripod-mounted equipment

Your education starts with obtaining a bachelor’s degree in land surveying. Then, you will be allowed to take a test to become a licensed surveyor. This is a specialized field of engineering, so you will generally encounter fewer people in your classes.

However, as you move up the company ladder, you may be required to obtain a master’s degree specifically related to the oil and gas industry. At this point, you will have the skills necessary to perform almost any job within this sector.

10. Technical Writing

Someone has to provide the technical manuals to the oil field technicians, and that job falls on the shoulders of the technical writer. This is the perfect career for those who enjoy teaching others how to do things. You will not only provide technical support to engineering teams, but you will also get to use your creative skills to draft:

  • Manuals
  • Project plans
  • Design specifications
  • Technical bulletins
  • Safety data sheets

The minimum required for most technical writing jobs is a bachelor’s degree. However, you will be ahead of the curve if you have a bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline with a master’s in technical writing.

Final Thoughts

As you can tell by now, entry into the oil and gas industry is not easy, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Many graduates who find their way in describe it more as an adventure than merely a job. If you decide to take this career path, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree and, in some of the more scientific fields, a master’s degree.

If you are still unsure which specialized area to choose, that’s okay. The common theme that binds most of these degrees together is science and engineering. Start with those subjects and work from there. For example:

  • Geology
  • Oceanography
  • Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Physics

These courses will give you a head start toward your goal of working in the oil and gas industry. They will also pique your interest and move you toward your specialized areas of interest. Even if you decide on a law degree, you will need plenty of science electives to at least show you have some interest in oil and gas.

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in the field of science and engineering is a substantial commitment but one that is worth achieving. Aside from the above-average pay, you will have opportunities for travel and making connections abroad. Also, if at some point the oil and gas industry is not for you, there are plenty of other industries that are always begging for your expertise.

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Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?