Petroleum engineer salary & career outlook

Imagine a world without oil and gas. Thanks to petroleum engineers, we don't have to.

As described by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, petroleum engineers "design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the earth's surface" and "find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells." This might involve designing equipment, making sure well testing is completed, drilling and much more.

Becoming a petroleum engineer, the BLS states, typically requires a bachelor's degree in engineering — preferably petroleum engineering — and a license. Analytical skills, creativity, math skills and problem-solving skills are also useful. Petroleum engineering programs at schools around the country can help prepare you for a career in helping meet the nation's energy needs.

Petroleum engineer salary

The average petroleum engineer makes a better-than-average wage, the BLS reports. As of May 2013, petroleum engineers in the U.S. earned a mean annual wage of $149,180, with the lowest-paid 10 percent nationally earning an annual wage of $74,240 or less and the highest-paid 10 percent nationally earning an annual wage of $186,520 or more.

However, those numbers generally vary between industries. The top-paying industries for petroleum engineers in America, per the BLS, as of May 2013, were:

  • Other financial investment activities (such as those not including mining, manufacturing, or oil and gas extraction): $189,370 annual mean wage
  • Oil and gas extraction: $162,860 annual mean wage
  • Agriculture, construction and mining machinery manufacturing: $146,270 annual mean wage

In addition, the state you live in is likely to affect how much you get paid. According to the BLS, the top-paying states in America for petroleum engineers, as of May 2013, were:

  • Alaska: $160,340 annual mean wage
  • Texas: $159,340 annual mean wage
  • Kansas: $155,160 annual mean wage

Even more specifically, the city you live in could impact how much money you make as a petroleum engineer. According to the BLS, the top-paying metropolitan areas in America for petroleum engineers, as of May 2013, were:

  • Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX metropolitan division: $179,040 annual mean wage
  • Jackson, MS: $170,170 annual mean wage
  • Anchorage, AK: $166,840 annual mean wage

Job outlook for petroleum engineers

There are few better industries than petroleum engineering if you're looking to join a growing field.

According to the BLS, employment of petroleum engineers across the country is projected to grow by 26 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is far quicker than the 11 percent national average for all jobs. That growth is estimated to result in approximately 9,800 new jobs.

The BLS notes that higher oil and gas prices could cause companies to drill in areas that traditionally haven't been tapped, such as deeper waters and less hospitable environments. Plus, they could return to existing wells and attempt new extraction methods. Increased complexity of drilling operations requires more engineers who can discover ways to tap these energy resources, in addition to assisting companies as they comply with new drilling regulations for deep water.

Other possible explanations for job growth of petroleum engineers, according to the BLS, are open positions caused by petroleum engineers retiring or leaving the occupation, and increased demand for petroleum engineers in support activities for mining.

As for where petroleum engineer positions are expected to open up the most, we may get a good idea by looking at where it thrived before. According to the BLS, the American states with the highest employment level of petroleum engineers, as of May 2013, were:

  • Texas
  • Oklahoma
  • California

The American metropolitan areas with the highest employment levels of petroleum engineers, as of May 2013, were:

  • Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO

These three metro areas are likely to see good growth in the long run as well, as two of the three are in the states with especially good career projections, based on state data aggregated by Projections Central. According to these numbers, the states with the best expected job growth for petroleum engineers through 2020 are:

  • Colorado: 106.4% growth
  • Pennsylvania: 72.9%
  • Texas: 38.2%

Petroleum engineers are necessary in U.S. industry, and they typically get paid well. It's a growing field. Do you really need more reason than that to enroll in a petroleum engineering school and get started?


Occupational Employment and Wages: Petroleum Engineers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013,

What Petroleum Engineers Do, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014,

Long-Term Occupational Projections, Projections Central,