Education: 5 Reasons to NOT become a Petroleum Engineer

Choosing an education path on the university level is quite a big decision. After all, you will probably work for the rest of your life related to something in regards to your major. This is why I am writing this article.

The whole reason why I do write this article is based upon two things:

1) I have a mum that is a petroleum engineer and has been working in the industry for more than 30 years. She has given me a lot of insights in regards to the ups and downs of choosing that career path.

2) My old classmate took a master’s degree in petroleum engineering from 2011 to 2016. Despite trying extremely hard to apply for all types of relevant jobs for two years straight, he failed. You will know why when you read further down the article.

So please take this as it is: a warning to whoever might consider taking a long education within the petroleum sector.

Top 5 reasons why becoming a petroleum engineer is a bad idea

Okay. Let’s start.

1. Governments do build out more and more clean & renewable energy sources

There is no doubt that we are currently seeing a huge spike in the demand for “clean energy”. Countries all over the world invest heavily in everything from solar panels to wind turbines. And with demand comes supply.

Huge oil companies are now shifting their focus from solely focusing on oil to expand more into other energy options. The clearest example does come from Norway. StatOIL, one of the biggest companies in Europe, is partly owned by the Norwegian government. As a result of the strategic decision of not only focusing on oil production, they changed their name from StatOIL to Equinor.

Unfortunately, petroleum engineers are not an important factor when it comes to building energy based on natural resources like water and wind. Sorry.

2. The oil sector is extremely vulnerable

I am not going to lie: becoming a petroleum engineer will probably give you an awful lot of money.

However, the job security part is not that good. When my friend started his education back in 2011, everything looked fantastic. The oil price was high, the demand for oil was drastically increasing and everything looked fantastic. But when he graduated, things looked much worse. People that had been working in the Norwegian oil industry started to get fired – and suddenly there were thousands of people without a job.

Some of these people have worked as petroleum engineers for decades. And, without any proper warning, they had a grown-up life and a lot of responsibilities – but no job.

If you want to know more about what`s been called “The Norwegian Oil Shock“, I would recommend this article published at Berkely University’s website.

What are the factors that can decrease job security in the petroleum sector?

– A sudden drop in the oil price.

– That type of drop is often related to big political decisions made by countries with huge oil fields (the Middle Eastern countries + USA + China).

– The oil sector is more or less built upon the fact that countries always want to discover new oil fields. This is a huge part of the job of an oil engineer. If for some reason a country or a company doesn’t see it as beneficial to find more oil, people will lose their job.

Let`s not forget the fact that being a petroleum engineer is very well paid. According to a study done and published by Grabcad, the average salary lays between 95,000 USD – 175,000 USD per year. In addition to that, a petroleum engineer is an engineer degree with the highest average salary.

How much does the oil price change over time?

A lot. An awful lot. This chart shows the changes in the oil price between 1950 and 2019:

Changes in the oil price between 1950 to 2019. Photo: macrotrends.net

As we know that job security in the petroleum sector is heavily linked with the oil price, you might understand why this might be risky. The chart is a screenshot that I took from this website (macrotrends.net).

3. The title “petroleum engineer” is extremely narrow and specified

There are tons of different engineering degrees. Of all the ones I could find online, I would reckon petroleum engineer to be the most narrow of them all.

– Regardless of how the technological development will happen in the future, you will always need computer engineers.

– Regardless of how developed our houses become in the future, there will always be ways of improving them. That opens up a huge market for architectural engineers.

– But, if we one day find out that sourcing energy from renewable resources is a better (and cheaper) solution compared to oil, there are no needs for an oil/petroleum engineer.

4. The everyday work life is not necessarily very comfortable

Long working hours, a lot of traveling and re-location based upon where the oil drilling will happen. These are just some of the disadvantages that you have to deal with as a petroleum engineer.

I might sound boring, but I would guess that most people would prefer a “boring” office 9-5 job.

5. People might be hostile towards you when they hear about your profession

Honestly. This is not something that I am making up.

Let me give you an example.

Currently, I am employed in a startup hub in Oslo. This is a place where a lot of different startups are based – and supposedly have the idea to “grow together”. About a week ago I met a gentleman in the canteen area. After having a quick chat with him for about two minutes, I asked what he was working with.

He said, in an extremely low volumed voice, the following:

“We are a startup creating AI solutions in the oil industry, but this is not something we talk too loud about. It’s not exactly something to be too proud of at the moment.”

Conclusion – are you scared now?

The meaning of writing this article was not to scare you off. However, I did an awful lot of research on Google before I chose to study sustainable economics. Petroleum engineer was probably my top choice to begin with. I wanted to work in the oil sector (for many different reasons).

While doing that research, I figured out that everything written about becoming an oil engineer was positive. You could barely find an article online providing a different (and slightly more negative) perspective. That is why I wrote this article. You should be able to make your own decision on this. I will just make sure that you understand the risk of starting an education as a petroleum engineer in our “modern world”.

7 thoughts on “Education: 5 Reasons to NOT become a Petroleum Engineer”

    1. Avatar

      Hehe, I don’t believe you are either. Not in the short-term at least.

      But in the long-term?

      Definitely.

  1. Avatar
    Anonymous engineer ;)

    Found this website by accident. Been scrolling down through a couple of your articles. Some of them make sense. This one does also.

    A lot of my colleagues wouldn’t agree with me. But our job as a petroleum engineer isn’t very sustainable. LEt me put it this way: during the next 50 years, we’re going to use oil. Not as much as before. But the petroleum industry will still remain.

    However, for the next 100 years I would be a bit more pessimistic.

    1. Avatar

      You’re at least honest.

      I know some petroleum engineers. Most of them won’t admit that your “business is dead” within the next decade.

  2. Avatar

    I am an oil engineer and do not agree With you.

    – Oil will be the number 1 fuel material in the future
    – Electric cars are OK, but not good (their Reach is really bad)
    – Norway, Saudi Arabia, China and the US will have large oil reserves in the future
    – Oil engineers are also needed in order to go away from oil and into renewable energy sources

    1. Avatar

      I don’t agree that oil engineers will be a big part of the “renewable energy revolution”.

      As of now, we do need petroleum engineers. I agree.

      In the future…not so much. 🙂

  3. Avatar

    I agree that petroleum engineer isn’t the future.

    Honestly, I would work with anything but oil…in 50 years, we are all going to fly renewable airplanes 😛

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