Petroleum Technician

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Petroleum Technician


A world without oil and gas would make it very difficult for people to drive cars or heat their homes. Since petroleum products have such an overwhelming impact on all of our lives, we have to be grateful to technical petroleum workers, notably those who are involved in the extraction work. Petroleum technicians are involved in the technical aspects of petroleum exploration and development. They support technologists and engineers helping to determine the best ways to get crude oil and natural gas out of the ground. Using principles of math, geology and engineering, they strive to ensure the best drilling techniques are used to get the maximum amount of petroleum from a deposit.

Petroleum engineering technologists may work in a variety of jobs related to oil and gas production including field mapping and site analysis, testing and sampling methods, instrument calibration, laboratory analysis, test equipment operation and maintenance, environment and safety monitoring procedures for petroleum fields and facilities.

Depending on where they work and who they work for, petroleum technicians might construct subsurface maps and cross-sections from well log data, prepare drilling and workover programs or even supervise field operations. Technicians involved in reservoir studies help calculate hydrocarbon reserves, analyze waterflood performance and evaluate the economic viability of such operations. Environmental technicians implement and monitor safety and environmental programs, including occupational health and safety.

Petroleum technicians conduct the majority of technical work involved in the petroleum process, from any step in the research, extraction and production process. They work under the supervision of an engineer, but with experience, will be able to operate independently. The technician looks at every aspect of production, from the size of the underground reservoir to the cost of pumping oil out of the ground.

Petroleum technicians are faced with solving practical problems daily. Accordingly, examining reserves and evaluating the economics behind an oil well is very technical work. Once the drilling begins, they must continually adjust procedures to maximize quality, quantity and speed. If a well explodes, shuts down or a problem slows production, they must help engineers 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. Alternatively, speeding up or optimizing production in a well can save a company hundreds of thousands of dollars, so any progress the technician makes on the job can be very rewarding.

Some petroleum technicians work on offshore vessels and travel internationally. Many really like this aspect of the job. Those who work overseas face some unique challenges because they must apply their technical knowledge in places where the culture, climate or setting is very different, such as tundra, desert or subsea drilling.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Petroleum technicians 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 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. Petroleum technicians 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  
  • Carry out the instructions of the petroleum engineer or biotechnologist
  • Maintain machines and equipment and determine when new ones are needed
  • Ensure that operations meet strict safety standards
  • Test the quality of petroleum products and record results in a log book
  • Write reports and draw charts and diagrams
  • May set up and operate laboratory equipment
  • May work out how much the work will cost
  • May monitor gases and chemicals sent out into the environment
  • Petroleum technicians work at well sites, in field offices and in head offices. At a well site, they may work outdoors in all weather conditions, and may work shifts, including evenings and weekends. Also, they may be working in remote locations, therefore they could work for many days straight and then take the same amount of days off. In offices, the hours are fairly standard.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • The majority of petroleum technicians work on-site at locations where oil and gas are found. Petroleum technicians may work overseas in the major oil producing countries and regions around the world like the Middle East. Employment opportunities are available 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.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Opportunities for advancement as a petroleum technician include becoming a team leader, supervisor or manager in the petroleum field. With further education, they can become petroleum technologists, engineers and even teach at the postsecondary level. Advancement potentials are also available overseas.

  Educational Paths  
Petroleum technicians usually require completion of a one- or two-year college program in petroleum or geochemical technology. Certification in petroleum technology or in a related field is available through associations of technicians and may be required by some employers. Usually, a two-year period of supervised work experience is required before certification as a petroleum technician.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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