Oil And Gas Drilling Engineer

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Oil And Gas Drilling Engineer


Picture an oil rig extracting valuable fuel or an offshore oil rig drilling in the ocean for oil. It would be hard to imagine a world without oil and gas. How would we drive our cars or heat our homes? Since petroleum products have such an overwhelming impact on all of our lives, we have no one other to thank than oil and gas drilling engineers. Drilling engineers are involved in the exploration and development of oil and gas fields. They determine the best and most cost-effective way to drill a well into the ground to access underground deposits of oil or gas. Using their knowledge of math, geology, science and engineering, they strive to ensure the best drilling techniques are used to get the maximum amount of petroleum from a deposit.

The first stage of the drilling process is researching a drilling location and working with geological and geophysical engineers to do this properly. It is no easy task to find the right drilling spot because no one can see what lies beneath the surface. Therefore, drilling engineers must use data and scientific models to understand the layers of rock beneath the surface, and how they affect the petroleum deposit. Once a location has been determined, the next step is generating designs on computer systems. Factors such as cost-effectiveness, speed, oil quality and drilling methods must be taken into account. They must decide upon the type of well to build and best extraction method, such as the injection of water, chemicals, gases or steam or use computer-controlled drilling.

Oil and gas drilling engineers are faced with solving practical problems daily. Once the drilling begins, they must continually adjust procedures to maximize cost-effectiveness, quality, quantity and speed. If a well explodes, shuts down or a problem slows production, drilling engineers must find a solution. Since delays and catastrophes can cost a company thousands of dollars an hour, rapid problem solving is crucial. They must think and act fast. They will also meet with senior management to inform them about the progress of the well.

Some drilling engineers work on offshore vessels and travel internationally. Many engineers love this aspect of the job. Those who work overseas face some unique challenges because they must apply their engineering knowledge in places where the culture, climate or setting is very different, such as tundra, desert or subsea drilling.

Oil and gas drilling engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) systems to create realistic geometric models of drills, which can simulate and analyze the effects and potential problems of designs such as machine malfunction and slowdown. They are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Oil and gas drilling engineers should have strong math, physics and chemistry skills. They must be able to solve complex and stressful problems, think quickly and make decisions just as fast. They should have the ability to work independently on the computer, doing design work as well as working in teams on site at oil drilling sites on offshore rigs. Drilling engineers require excellent communication skills as they deal with a variety of people on a daily basis. Also, they must enjoy traveling and working away from home for extended periods of time.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assess costs and evaluate the economic viability of potential drilling sites
  • Develop drilling programs, select sites and specify drilling fluids, bit selection, drill stem testing procedures and equipment
  • Design and select artificial lift machinery, and well and surface production equipment and systems and specify programs for corrosion control and oil or gas treatment
  • Direct and monitor oil and gas drilling operations
  • Analyze drilling data to determine if wells contain significant quantities of hydrocarbons that can be recovered
  • Analyze reservoir rock and fluid data to design optimum recovery methods and to predict reservoir performance and reserves
  • Find ways to improve production and optimize drilling methods
  • Recommend improved production methods based on research and analysis
  • Design, develop and coordinate the installation, maintenance and operation of subsea wellhead and production equipment.
  • Estimate the immediate and long-term production capabilities of oil and gas drilling wells
  • Oil and gas drilling engineers tend to work long hours, especially when working in the field. They often work on site for a few weeks and then take a significant number of days off. Those working in oil fields or on offshore drilling rigs often work 12-hour shifts. Sometimes, on-site work can be potentially hazardous and dangerous. There can be quite a bit of travel involved, often in foreign countries and to remote field stations. Travel bonuses are generally offered in these cases. Some drilling engineers may be forced to relocate to be near a well or field station, which can be located in remote rural areas. Once they become established and experienced, many drilling engineers move towards more office work and laboratory work putting in regular hours (a 40-hour week).

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • The majority of oil and gas drilling engineers work on-site in locations where oil and gas are found. Other drilling engineers work on offshore rigs or overseas in the major oil producing countries and regions around the world like the Middle East.
  • Employment opportunities are available locally with major oil companies, smaller, independent oil exploration, production and service companies, well logging or testing companies and engineering consulting firms. Others work for government agencies and research or educational institutions. Some drilling engineers have their own consulting and construction businesses or work in banks and other financial institutions which lend money to companies for the purchase of oil and gas properties.

  Long Term Career Potential  
As oil and gas drilling engineers gain experience, they can work more regular hours in an office or as the head of a team. The entry-level work is more on-site and involves traveling, but once engineers gain that hands on experience, the work becomes more research based and design oriented. Some may decide to branch off and open their own engineering consulting firm or work in a freelance capacity.

Another direction some will take involves more of a managerial role or corporate advancement in a large petroleum company. Oil is one of the richest commodities in the world, therefore it is no wonder that drilling engineers are typically higher paid than other engineers.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics and science. Most university programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Oil and gas drilling engineers require a bachelor's degree in petroleum or chemical engineering. Then, they must also become registered as a professional engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. A master's degree or PhD can improve employment prospects, salary and employment options.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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