There are huge misconceptions surrounding mining and petroleum engineering despite these facets of engineering producing raw materials used in every stage of human life.

Professor Ismet Canbulat, Head of the School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering at UNSW, emphasises on the inability of humankind to function without the resource industry.

“Minerals and energy are essential for survival of humanity. Survival in a way, that we support many industries, including medical construction, water, space, farming, anything, and everything that you can think of.

“The mining industry is part of the solution, not part of the problem. We are here to help humankind to survive, and we support humankind through different industries and in those industries without minerals, for example we are not going to get the medication we need. We are not going to have farming, communication, construction, or transportation.

“Mining engineering is required to support renewable energy while petroleum engineering will support carbon sequestration and net carbon zero industries. Therefore, when you put the two together, we are destined to help the humanity to go and achieve a carbon free future.”

Here are some things you might not have known or have misunderstood about mining and petroleum engineering.

What exactly is mining and petroleum engineering?

Mining engineering does not only deal with coal and neither does petroleum engineering only deal with oil and gas.

There is a huge misconception that the mining and petroleum industries are only centred around fossil fuel. This is false as these industries are integral in powering and shaping our everyday lives. Mining engineering is responsible for extracting the vital minerals and geological materials from the earth. On the other hand, petroleum engineering deals with the recovery of hydrocarbons which can be crude oil or natural gas.

If you look at the periodic table, the many metals, metalloids, and noble gases are all used in everything that is created and developed today. From gold to aluminium to lead to zinc, to hydrocarbons and many more, it is thanks to mining and petroleum engineering, that these resources can be utilised for the things we need.

From energy generation for electricity, food processing, developing metal-based compounds in healthcare, developing electronics such as your smartphone and many more.

Fun fact: it takes more than 40 mined metals and rare earths to produce a smartphone (Minerals Council of Australia).

The minerals and energy resources industry carry the nation

During the Covid-19 epidemic, it was the minerals and resource industry that provided for the nation. Despite job cuts in other industries, there was a pronounced employment growth in the resource industry - over 15 thousand jobs added, proving its stability. Australia is expected to make over $260 billion in resourvce exports this year alone.

The industry contributes to over 8% of the Australian economy and makes up 70% of exports from Australia. This leads to over $250 billion revenue annually and has made Australia become a country with the longest stretch of uninterrupted growth within the developed world.

Mining and petroleum engineering is needed in the fight for climate change

There will be no carbon free future without critical minerals and the technologies need currently used but our industries. The minerals and energy resources industry is a leader in supporting future energy pursuits. If you care about mother nature and want to reduce effects from climate change, then minerals and energy resources should become your new focal point.

Solar energy is made possible by mining. The creation of solar panels requires critical minerals such as copper for wiring, boron for the semi-conductor and silicon for the panels which cannot be produced without mining. Catalytic converters which reduce emissions from exhaust gas into a more environmentally friendly gas are another creation made possible. This device uses minerals such as iron, platinum, nickel and many more.

Electric cars are increasingly becoming popular and by 2030, they will account for the sale of 48% of all new cars. This is part of the future of renewable energy, but it cannot be done without mining. As the batteries, car body windscreens, connectors, brakes all use metals derived from mining.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a by-product released from human activities and industrial use especially from the generation of power and transportation. To absorb the production of CO2 from the atmosphere, CO2  capture and storage is required. This method called carbon sequestration encourages the use of renewable energy to reduce CO2 and then to store any that is produced deep in oil reservoirs.

CCUS (Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage) is the third-largest contributor to reduce carbon emissions, behind energy efficiency and renewables. Image from IEA (International Energy Agency) 2019.

Thus, to achieve a carbon neutral future, CCUS is essential in storing CO2. CCUS shifts the economics in favour for renewables and is an essential part in the future towards this neutrality. To achieve carbon neutrality, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has advised for the use of many technologies including using renewables, CO2 storage and energy efficient solutions such as geothermal energy. This would not be possible without petroleum engineering.

Many future technologies are being developed and used within mining and petroleum engineering

As society accelerates towards a more circular, sustainable future, the resource industry is finding innovative ways to turn our finite natural resources into a wellspring of innovation and opportunity.

One of these methods is through resource rehabilitation. When resources have been extracted from the earth, resource rehabilitation restores the land back to its initial setting and can even improve the ecosystem to a renewed state, that you would never believe that the area used to be a site to extract resources. This can include rehabilitating with vegetation, sea reefs or even turning it to a farmland.

As mining and petroleum engineering are key industries for socio-economic growth, many future technologies will be used in these industries. Automation is a key technology being utilised within the resource industry with most manual processes becoming automatic with the increase of driverless vehicles. This means that safety in mines would be increased and that machines can be operated remotely by mining engineers who will ensure that the technology operates efficiently.

Off Earth mining used to once be a subject of fiction but is fast becoming a reality. As resources are limited, research is being done on potential resources that can be extracted from the Moon and other planets such as Mars. These resources can then be used to supplement resources on earth and possibly even begin civilisation on the moon. This is even expected to be a possibility in 30 years!

Data analytics is another area that is increasingly growing. With the increase in automation and artificial intelligence, there is a larger amount of data produced. Optimised data fusion is fast becoming employed to make more efficient decision decisions. Research projects are undertaken at Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering (MERE) using visualisation data analytics to solve industry problems and utilise this for future operations. At the Mine Internet of Things (MIoT) & Indoor Positioning Indoor Navigation (IPIN) Lab, data analytics are used to inform engineers of operations, make better decisions, boost productivity, and increase safety.

It is an adaptable field – diversity in career options

The skills learned in both mining and petroleum engineering can be used in other industries apart from the resources industry. Engineers can use the skills learned in other fields. On site, both petroleum and mining engineers need to work with other professionals such as geologists and scientists.

Both mining and petroleum engineering degrees can lead to diverse career paths that do not involve working in resource exploration. It is a huge misconception that mining engineers can only work in mines, or that petroleum engineers only work in oil rigs. Graduates from both fields can work in management, consulting, inspecting, economists and even as engineers in other industries.

This is because the skills learned are versatile and form the basis for engineering in other disciplines. There are many opportunities reserved exclusively for mining and petroleum engineering graduates. Graduates can also work in other industries such as finance, government, construction and many more.

Find out more in careers in minerals and energy resources.

Opportunities galore- flexibility with work schedules

One area that the resources industry excels in is the flexibility of working hours and many travel opportunities offered. Currently, especially as workers are actively seeking for flexible working environments, The resource industry had already been offering this option pre-epidemic.

Due to the need to work on site, most workers employed in the resources industry will travel not just nationally but internationally when the need arises. Workers usually practice long distance communing (LDC), either flying in and flying out (FIFO), or driving in and driving out (DIDO) to remote job sites. They would then spend anywhere from 1 week to a few weeks at the job site and then spend some weeks at home. This makes it a perfect role suitable for those who are looking to rest from work for a while or go on a holiday. An example of a typical working schedule for a remote mining engineer includes working 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off, working for 12 hours per shift. This is completely up to the worker to pick which option suits their lifestyle best.

This flexibility enables individuals to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Other workers might choose to live closer to remote sites in Western Australia or Queensland. Workers report positive experiences working FIFO or DIDO, the high salaries, flexibility of work schedules, travel opportunities, length of shifts and availability of positions.

This is not to say that office and indoor roles do not exist, as managing and research positions are aplenty within laboratories and offices. The environment for work may vary from time to time, from remote drilling sites to offices and research laboratories.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics might be a major component, but it is not all

Just like any other industry, there are vital soft skills that every worker must have. The resource industry looks for a strong technical background as well as excellent communication skills so that engineers will be able to work with teammates both on-site and off-site. Collaboration

Creativity is another paramount skill and perhaps the most important one. This is because when there is an engineering problem that affects society, it takes a large amount of creativity to produce ideas that could provide a solution to the ongoing problem. Innovation is an important aspect of engineering and being able to imagine potential solutions and explore uncertainties is a vital skill to have.

Networking within the industry is another skill. At Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering (MERE), there are strong ties between the school and industry partners which has resulted in collaborations with industries on several research projects. Industry mentoring is also offered to students to ensure that students gain networking skills with industry partners and be industry aware and ready upon graduation.

Opportunities for women

In comparison to many other industries, the average woman working in the minerals and energy resources industry in Australia out earns the average woman in other industries. In the mining industry, women only make up about 19% of the work force in the industry which prompts hiring managers to actively seek more women. Women in the resources industry report being well respected in their workplace and feeling equal to their male counterparts.

Many women who work in the resources sector also claim to feel a sense of fulfilment working in a male-dominated industry, as the challenges make successes more profound. Being a minority within such an industry can be motivating despite the many challenges it brings, a strong work ethic along with greater recognition for one’s achievements are some of the benefits that could be achieved.

Many measures have been taken to increase the participation of women in the resource industry from increasing parental leave to reducing the wage gap.

If you want to find out more about each engineering field, visit Careers in Minerals and Energy Resources for more information on the ins and outs of petroleum or mining engineering and the careers on offer.