What is Petroleum Engineering?

Petroleum Engineering is a field of engineering concerned with the activities related to the production of hydrocarbons, which can be either crude oil or natural gas. Exploration and production are deemed to fall within the upstream sector of the oil and gas industry. Exploration, by earth scientists, and petroleum engineering are the oil and gas industry's two main subsurface disciplines, which focus on maximizing economic recovery of hydrocarbons from subsurface reservoirs. In the context of the energy transition an expanding area is the geostorage of CO2, the intermediate storage of hydrogen, and the development of geothermal energy systems – all of which require the engineering of large-scale subsurface fluid flow solutions.

Petroleum geology and geophysics focus on provision of a static description of the hydrocarbon reservoir rock, while Petroleum Engineering focuses on estimation and optimisation of the recoverable volume of this resource using a detailed understanding of the physical behaviour of oil, water and gas within porous rock at very high pressure.

Many products are derived from Petroleum Engineering including fertilizer, cosmetics, plastics, textiles, kerosene, diesel etc. This makes Petroleum Engineering a crucial sector in society and a booming industry for engineers. 

  • Petroleum Engineers plan, estimate and oversee the recovery of hydrocarbons such as oil and gas from petroleum reservoirs, or more generally master the technology of two-phase subsurface fluid flow. This includes the eventual abandonment of wells and realising associated geostorage opportunities like the underground storage of CO2. They design and develop the procedures to extract oil and gas from, or store CO2 and hydrogen in, porous underground rock formations or reservoirs. These rock formations can be found on land or at sea and have wells drilled into them to access these deposits.

    Petroleum Engineers research geological data and information on suitable locations for wells for possible extraction of oil and gas. They determine what drilling equipment would be the most efficient for such purposes. They study new techniques to recover more oil and gas deposits in reservoirs as well as more sustainable ways of obtaining resources while lowering costs of production. Increasingly, Petroleum Engineers implement and optimise CO2 storage solutions, often for depleted oil and gas reservoirs.

    • Estimating locations for drilling of oil and gas
    • Designing equipment to extract hydrocarbons from oil reserves
    • Overseeing installation and operation of field equipment
    • Developing plans for the drilling and subsequent recovery of oil and gas
    • Working alongside geologists and other scientists on extracting resources
    • Assessing potential risks in the extraction process
    • Preparing operation budgets by estimating costs of production
    • Providing engineering advice for exploration and extraction
    • Developing and optimising geostorage solutions including long-term monitoring
    • Conducting operations in accordance with environmental policies
    • Ensuring workplace health and safety for all personnel

    These will enable you to understand the best way to extract oil and gas reserves, maximise recovery, increase profit while ensuring environmental sustainability. 

  • Oil and gas are natural resources that continue to be a vital source for energy in society. Furthermore, the success of the net zero energy transition relies on the ability to store CO2 underground. There remains a huge demand for petroleum engineers as our society will always require and utilize two-phase flow technology in large underground reservoirs. Petroleum engineers can work in:

    • Construction companies
    • Contacting firms
    • Government 
    • Manufacturing companies
    • Mining Engineering
    • Oil and gas production companies
    • Professional services

    They can work in office, on site in oil fields, production centre. Petroleum Engineers hired by international companies may also get the opportunity to work as an expatriate in many oil producing countries around the world. Travel is frequent in this role to visit sites and meet other engineers.

    Career pathways include:

    • Completion engineers
    • Consultants
    • Drilling engineers
    • Production engineers
    • Project managers
    • Reservoir engineers
    • Subsurface engineers
  • You will require:

    • Skills in mathematics and chemistry for analysis 
    • Analytical skills to understand technical data 
    • Creativity to come up with extraction designs 
    • Problem solving skills to prevent potential issues in drilling
    • Interpersonal skills to work with other engineers on projects
    • Excellent oral and written communication skills
    • Capability in computing and design


    The oil and gas industry has an increased demand of job opportunities due to the increased use for natural gas and other petroleum by-products. It is common for Petroleum Engineers to work overseas in different areas of the world particularly in oil producing states. This means that there could be many travel opportunities while working.

    Petroleum Engineers can also gain a high rate of pay amongst other benefits including high retirement plans, full health, disability, and life insurance plans as well as a generous paid time off. The low rate of unemployment and easy access to the industry make it a worthwhile role for those considering gaining employment.

    Countries of Occupation

    Within Australia, many petroleum extraction facilities such as oil and gas rigs are located in Western Australia with company offices located in Perth.

    Outside Australia, the top countries for employment are:

    • Brazil
    • Canada
    • Denmark
    • Netherlands
    • New Zealand
    • Norway
    • Qatar
    • Saudi Arabia
    • United Arab Emirates
    • United Kingdom
    • United States of America
  • To pursue this path in Australia, you can start with the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Petroleum).

    You can apply for a graduate program or entry level role upon graduation or further your education by studying a postgraduate coursework program in Petroleum Engineering to gain a more competitive stance.

    A doctoral degree will also allow you to specialise in a specific piece of research:

    This field will allow you to register with the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Engineers Australia, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), the Association of Professional Engineers Australia (APEA) and the Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia.

Student profiles

Hear what our current students have to say about Petroleum Engineering:

Khaliq Musa student

“Even with continuous effort pushing for net zero carbon emission, petroleum products are still heavily relied upon to create a vast array of daily necessities”.

gizelle van dyk student

There are a lot of chemical engineers working in petroleum positions which is due to a shortage of petroleum graduates. Having a petroleum degree will give you an advantage for these positions.

Liam Brunton Student

“A new generation of petroleum Engineers will be vital to evolve the resources industry, into one that can sustain itself and thrive in the economies of the future”.

Abdul Muizz student

UNSW has provided me with resources throughout the degree such as great lecturers, industry software and learning materials. I am now confident that I can compete with graduates from around the world.