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Should I major in petroleum engineering or chemical engineering?

121314121314 Posts: 302Registered User Junior Member
edited October 2013 in Engineering Majors
Well im not in college yet but im am immensely interested in the oil industry. Of course I have barely any knowledge on oil but i think a career of finding and extracting the most important resource on earth would be very cool. Anyways im really stuck on majoring in petroleum engineering or chemical engineering.

Petroleum Engineering

Pros: Will be able to find upstream oil jobs (most interesting to me), higher starting salary
Cons: Very specialized field, oil industry may be gone in 20 years

Chemical Engineering

Pros: Broad field where i can work on anything from pharmaceuticals to petroleum, good salary
Cons: Most likely will only get downstream jobs


As of now, im leaning more towards chemical engineering. Also, could you tell me about majoring in geology in terms of getting a job in the oil industry.
Post edited by 121314 on
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Replies to: Should I major in petroleum engineering or chemical engineering?

  • JapherJapher Posts: 1,350Registered User Senior Member
    Cons: Most likely will only get downstream jobs

    That's a poor assumption. I, as a ChemE, have been heavily recruited by the oil industry.

    Here's something to think about. Distillation is the same process by which ethanol is produced, and by which gas is cracked. If you think there is a future in ethanol than petrol shouldn't be too bad. However, ethanol guys also work a lot on biomass and biofuels, which is more of a biochemical area. ChemEs seem to be leaving biotech for pharma and entering biofuels. This is a current trend, but if you think extracting the most valuable resource on the face of the planet cool you might want to look beyond petroleum and into these renewable resources which have a biochemical slant.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    That's a poor assumption. I, as a ChemE, have been heavily recruited by the oil industry.

    Uh, well, actually, that doesn't actually answer the OP's question. Of course chemE's will be heavily recruited by the oil industry. The question is which part of the oil industry. As the OP correctly pointed out, ChemE's generally end up in the downstream part of the oil industry, not in the far more lucrative and exotic, but also harsher (as in lower quality of life) upstream part. In other words, you'll find plenty of chemical engineers in an oil refinery, but almost none on a drilling rig which is where the OP seems to want to be.
    Pros: Will be able to find upstream oil jobs (most interesting to me), higher starting salary
    Cons: Very specialized field, oil industry may be gone in 20 years

    Because of what you said, I think you should major in PetE, not ChemE. You seem to be interested in the excitement of the upstream part and don't mind the lowered quality of life. {Believe me, it's really not fun to be stuck offshore for months at a time.} The fact of the matter is, PetE and ChemE have almost nothing to do with each other except for the fact that they often times tend to work in the same company (but in different divisions of the company). Locating and extracting oil has practically nothing to do with refining it. PetE is really a specialized form of civil engineering, and to some extent a form of mining engineering.

    I do agree that it is possible that we may not be drilling for oil in 20 years. I find that highly unlikely, but it is possible given the speculations on Hubbert's peak oil theory. But, truth be told, if you're still stuck out on the drilling floor after 20 years, something went awry in your career. Being out on the drill rig is fun for a few years, but it's really a young person's game. If you have performed decently, then hopefully you should have moved to some kind of management role after 20 years at which point, your specific undergrad degree doesn't really matter anymore.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    Also, could you tell me about majoring in geology in terms of getting a job in the oil industry.

    Geology/Earth-sciences are pretty good too. You'll probably have a different job (i.e. you'll be a company geologist as opposed to a drilling or reservoir engineer), and you'll probably spend less time at the wellhead, especially if the job is offshore. So your quality of life is better. On the other hand, you'll probably get paid less than the engineers. Still, I would say that it's a pretty decent compromise.
  • YourNameHere27YourNameHere27 Posts: 21Registered User New Member
    I would say petroleum geologist get paid the same, if not more that PEs. Drilling engineers may be competitive in terms of salary.
  • lowendnewbielowendnewbie Posts: 264Registered User Junior Member
    i'm gonna say chemical cause there are more different things you can do. Since you're not in college yet if you change your mind about petroluem in the next 5 years you can still do other stuff if you're in chemical. But with petroluem is seems like your stuck.

    This is from the view of an environmental who probably go have gone into civil or chemical.
  • steeveesteevee Posts: 828Registered User Member
    The company I'm interning at right now hires chemical engineers (along with petroleum and mechanical) for positions in reservoir engineering and drilling engineering.
  • blemblem Posts: 114Registered User Junior Member
    which company is it steevee?
  • 121314121314 Posts: 302Registered User Junior Member
    So is everyone saying that if i major in chemical engineering, i will have oppurtunities to get upstream jobs.

    Also my situation is a little bit complicated. If i decide to major in chemical engineering i will most likely go to OSU since i would get a full scholorship but if i decide to major in petroleum engineering i would have to go to a school that offers that major (not OSU), and in my situation that would most likely be Penn State. If i went to Penn State, i would get a grant but it would still cost me some (most likely <10000)
  • JapherJapher Posts: 1,350Registered User Senior Member
    A free degree trumps all, IMO.

    Still, I think you'll have just as many opportunities in the petroleum industry as you would if you got petro engineering degree.
  • 121314121314 Posts: 302Registered User Junior Member
    Can anyone else confirm this
  • YourNameHere27YourNameHere27 Posts: 21Registered User New Member
    I agree, chemical will get you there.
  • steeveesteevee Posts: 828Registered User Member
    I just noticed that the OP has immense interest in the oil industry (or rather the salary), but knows nothing about it.
  • DaNDHSIrishGuyDaNDHSIrishGuy Posts: 197Registered User Junior Member
    Well he's in for a shock on his first day in college? :)

    He'll also be in for a shock when he learns how cyclical the industry is when he graduates, have a back up plan buddy. <3
  • Forever LSUForever LSU Posts: 419Registered User Member
    First of all, you have no knowledge of the oil industry and what it entails. Most people who become petroleum engineers either have family members majoring in petroleum engineering or know someone in the industry. It is always hilarious to see the newbs who have no knowledge what so ever about the oil industry in the class rooms. Unless you’ve seen the processes with your own eyes you have no clue. They are absolutely lost.

    Also, if you’re going into oil for the money that is the wrong choice. If you are really concerned about money, become a doctor or lawyer. If money is your main goal go into something that will get you there. You have to be the person that doesn’t care about their time. Upstream demands time, and a lot of it. A lot of petroleum engineers move of into management positions like Sakky said. Usually, that is because the company is afraid of losing their experience and the engineer threatens to quit because they are sick of being offshore. It is fun to travel and do that thing when you are young, but it gets old really fast. Just like with any other job. As you get older your priorities change and you see things differently. You also realize how short your time on this earth is. I think it is more of a love affair with oil than anything else.

    Oil will not be gone in 20 years. Now, will they be drilling as much in 20 years, absolutely not. Oil companies will be exploring for more gas reserves than anything else because the oil really won’t be in the ground. So, the quicker you get into the industry and move up into position the better off you will be. You will have a very secure job with an oil company though. They will be the ones developing the new energy technologies just as they are now. To think that an oil company will stop making money is just a stupid idea. You’ll see hydrogen tanks, and bio fuel trucks with Shell, Chevron, and BP on the side, trust me.

    Chemical Engineering is a very broad field and you can do a variety of things. It will get you into the downstream sector of the oil industry. Petroleum engineering and chemical engineering have nothing to do with each other. Just as upstream and downstream have nothing to do with each other. I always laugh when I hear new students say that petroleum and chemical are related. They have no idea what they are talking about. Also, they think petroleum is the highest paying. Petroleum is the highest paying only if you are going into drilling. Which is very stressful and will absorb the majority of your life. The conditions on the rig are nice, but I don’t know to many people who consider being out in the middle of the ocean or desert fun. Honestly, the petroleum engineers and other oil engineers and workers I know are all workaholics. We really don’t know what else to do with our lives besides make money and spend money. It is not a field or career choice for the weak at heart, I can tell you that much.

    For the sake of the American economy we really need to move off of our oil dependence. The future of America is very bleak unless we develop other ways to fuel our vehicles and produce electricity. I’m all for the energy resolutions because we desperately need to get off this oil addiction. When the economy picks up out of this recession, Oil will shoot through the roof. To be honest with you, depending on how the policies of the new presidential administration go, I might have to end up switching to another form of engineering besides petrol. It’s not like it will be hard, it will just push me back a year off the 4 year mark. So, I will graduate in 5 instead of 4. I will have a great background in oil production though. Whether that will be useful or not who knows. Yes, oil will still play are part in future energy. Will it remain the base, yes it will until we find suitable energy replacements. If we don’t the whole world is in trouble. It is hard to find the right answers to these questions. No one can predict how quickly technology will advance and how economies will react and move along. We have only hope and faith. I can tell you that you won't have to worry about finding a job in chemical engineering. That is not going anywhere.
  • blemblem Posts: 114Registered User Junior Member
    what other type of other engineering would you switch to Forever LSU?
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