Types of Engineers

A variety of engineering specialties make great career options in the energy industry. Read below to see job descriptions for some of the many options!


Do you like working with computers?

Digital engineering jobs combine information technology (IT) with oil and gas disciplines, such as petroleum engineering, geology or geoscience. IT knowledge for a digital engineer can include programming, networking, system architecture and hardware. Digital engineers understand the capabilities, potential and limitations of IT. They use this knowledge to develop high-tech systems that find and retrieve oil and gas. They also must understand oil and gas disciplines, such as petroleum engineering, to know where new technology is needed and the best way to develop and apply the technology. Some other names for this job are user support engineer, software engineer, and engineering architect.


Do you like technology and economics?

The job of the drilling engineer is to design and implement a procedure to drill the well as economically as possible. The well will confirm the presence of oil or natural gas in the location selected by geologists and geophysicists. Drilling engineers work closely with the drilling contractor (the operator of the rig and its crews), service contractors and compliance personnel, as well as the other members of his internal team. A drilling engineer must manage the complex drilling operation, including both the people and technology. Drilling a well can often cost several million dollars, and the drilling engineer is responsible for making certain that costs are minimized while getting all the necessary information to evaluate the reservoir, protecting the health and safety of workers and any nearby residents, and protecting the environment.


Do you like chemistry?

Individuals with chemical engineering expertise can play many different roles in the energy industry. For example, they may work with facility or safety engineers in designing and operating natural gas processing plants or other field facilities. They may work with drilling or production engineers to determine the optimum fluids for use in drilling or stimulation given the subsurface properties. They help production engineers determine how to keep wellbores free from contaminants and control subsurface microbes that could create unpleasant byproducts. Many chemical engineers are engaged in research—to develop a better drilling fluid, to improve carrying agents so treatment chemicals can travel further into the reservoir, to devise new ways to control treatment of wastes and emissions to improve environmental performance, to more efficiently remove impurities from natural gas, or to address other technical challenges.


Do you like electronics?

Electrical and electronics engineers work with some of the most high-tech equipment in the world. They design electronic devices and systems for everything from airplanes to laptops. Electrical engineering involves building and testing electronics systems, wiring, lighting, and more; the production and delivery of electricity; and modern concepts like robotics, nanotechnology (controlling matter at the atomic and molecular level), and microelectrics (very small electrical components).


Are you interested in protecting the environment?

Environmental and regulatory specialists may have engineering or geology backgrounds, or they may come from one of the many environmental or science disciplines, including biology, hydrology, and marine science, or they may be lawyers. These personnel are typically part of a project team responsible for assuring that all environmental requirements are met. In some companies, they may be charged with developing innovative ways of managing wastes or emissions that will enhance project economics as well as environmental protections. Regulatory specialists often work closely with government oversight agencies to assure that projects are conducted to the satisfaction of the regulator. As oil and gas resources are developed in areas far from existing infrastructure, environmental specialists may have significant challenges to overcome to remain in compliance with requirements developed for areas where laboratories (for testing) and disposal sites are readily available. They may also have responsibility for working with indigenous communities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In developed areas, they may have responsibility for community outreach programs.


Do you like to design?

Facilities engineers design and implement all of the supplemental facilities necessary to the separation, processing, and transportation of oil and natural gas. They work with production engineers on all of the surface processing equipment for a field. They design and build natural gas processing plants to remove impurities from the gas and prepare it for transportation. They design and build pipelines to move oil, gas, and produced water around within a field, to processing or disposal facilities, and to the point of sale. They also work on large interstate transportation pipelines for oil, petroleum products, and natural gas.

Facility engineers also design offshore platforms. These enormous structures are built at shipyards and then must be transported to the field where they will be deployed. Offshore facilities must be designed to withstand heavy seas and hurricanes, protect the hundreds of personnel who may work there, and assure that all drilling and production operations can take place with the utmost safety. The platform design must consider the number of wells that will be needed for the field, the type and volume of hydrocarbons to be processed, transportation of the oil or gas to shore, and possible future reuse or abandonment. Designing an offshore platform is one of the greatest and most rewarding challenges that a facilities engineer can encounter.


Are you interested in ecology?

Hydraulic engineering focuses on how to safely use and control moving water. Engineers in this field may work on designing, building, and managing dams, hydroelectric power plants, sewage disposal plants or other water-related facilities and analyzing the impact these structures have on the environment and the bodies of water they’re built on. Hydraulic engineers may analyze water flow and hydraulic forces; study waves and design coastal protection structures; manage systems for drinking water and runoff floodwater; and many other important tasks. Environmental concerns are an important aspect of a hydraulic engineer’s career; hydraulic engineers are concerned with stream ecology, the protection of wetlands, the protection of groundwater, and more.


Do you like to analyze and investigate?

Industrial engineers analyze and evaluate methods of production and point out ways to improve them. They decide how a company should allocate its limited tangible resources (equipment and labor) within the framework of existing physical constraints (physical plant). Each company that hires an industrial engineer, either as a consultant or as an internal manager, has its own specific limitations. An industrial engineer must quickly become an expert not only in the manufacturing and production processes of the industry, but also in the specific culture, problems, and challenges that the company faces. This may mean face-to-face meetings with executives, extensive stays on manufacturing floors, and review of historical production data. Industrial engineers receive information from others about what goes on in the day-to-day work environment, but they must also make their own observations of these activities. Many employees are uncomfortable being “watched” by industrial engineers, and industrial engineers often walk a thin line between being an analyst and being a detective.

An industrial engineer’s most difficult task is communicating his observations and suggestions to company executives, many of whom are emotionally invested in their traditional way of doing business. Industrial engineers must be tactful in what they say and in how they say it. In addition to tact, being a successful industrial engineer requires charm and the willingness to stand by one’s recommendations even in the face of unresponsive management. The large majority of industrial engineers—around 70 percent—work at manufacturing companies, and many have specific areas of specialization, such as assembly, raw-product processing, or administrative (paperwork) practices. Most industrial engineers have good working conditions, intellectually challenging work, and a high level of satisfaction. Hours can be long, but this tends to be outweighed by the satisfaction derived from the education that each different project brings.


Do you like to work on power-producing machines?

Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, manufacture, and test tools, engines, machines, and other mechanical devices. Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Engineers in this discipline work on power-producing machines such as electric generators, internal combustion engines, and steam and gas turbines. They also work on power-using machines, machine tools, material handling systems, industrial production equipment, and robots used in manufacturing. Mechanical engineers also design tools that other engineers need for their work.


Are you interested in the coal industry?

Mining and geological engineers, including mining safety engineers find, extract, and prepare coal, metals, and minerals for use by manufacturing industries and utilities. They design open-pit and underground mines, supervise the construction of mine shafts and tunnels in underground operations, and devise methods for transporting minerals to processing plants. Mining engineers are responsible for the safe, economical, and environmentally sound operation of mines.

Some mining engineers work with geologists and metallurgical engineers to locate and appraise new ore deposits. Others develop new mining equipment or direct mineral-processing operations that separate minerals from the dirt, rock, and other materials with which they are mixed. Mining engineers frequently specialize in the mining of one mineral or metal, such as coal or gold. With increased emphasis on protecting the environment, many mining engineers work to solve problems related to land reclamation and water and air pollution. Mining safety engineers use their knowledge of mine design and practices to ensure the safety of workers and to comply with state and federal safety regulations. They inspect walls and roof surfaces, monitor air quality, and examine mining equipment for compliance with safety practices.


Do you like chemistry?

Nuclear engineers develop the methods, instruments, and systems to harness the power of nuclear energy and radiation. They search for efficient ways to capture and put to beneficial use the tiny natural bursts of energy from a disintegrating atom. They may work in production and transport of fuel, operation and monitoring of nuclear power stations, or disposal and containment of nuclear waste. While there are some risks to working with radioactive material, there are excellent safety procedures to minimize those risks. As a nuclear engineer in the energy sector, you may…

  • Develop designs for nuclear plants for electric power and ships
  • Operate and support nuclear energy systems to reduce environmental pollution
  • Develop and apply regulations to ensure safety in handling radiation sources and operating nuclear systems
  • Research and design fusion reactor systems


Do you like physics?

The production engineer works to analyze, interpret, and optimize the performance of individual wells drilled for petroleum. The production engineer is responsible for determining how to bring hydrocarbons to the surface. The production engineer will determine the most efficient means to develop the field considering the viscosity of the crude oil, the gas-to-oil ratio, the depth and type of formation, and the project economics. The production engineer is also responsible for developing a system of surface equipment that will separate the oil, gas, and water. As the field matures, the production engineer will be responsible for exploring additional technologies to enhance production from wells that are declining. In doing so, the production engineer will work closely with reservoir engineers and those in other disciplines to determine the optimal approach for that particular field.


Do you like math?

Reservoir engineers are responsible for estimating the amount of oil or gas that can be recovered from a reservoir. They determine the fluid and pressure distributions throughout the reservoir, the natural energy sources available, and the methods most useful in recovering the maximum amount of oil or gas from the reservoir. The reservoir engineer may develop complex computer-based mathematical programs to model the fluid flow and formation pressures. Making good estimates of recoverable resources is crucial to a company’s financial position since future recovery is a measure often used by bankers and financial analysts of a company’s borrowing power and future worth.


Are you interested in designs that keep people safe?

Safety engineers are certified professionals who apply math, science, and engineering principles to the design of systems with inherent safety and fail-safe features. Safety engineers often work as members of project teams, advising on proper handling of chemicals and compliance with applicable regulations, conducting safety drills for personnel, assuring that procedures are documented, and performing myriad other tasks designed to assure the safety of industry personnel and any nearby residents. Each day, hundreds of thousands of oil and gas personnel work around highly flammable materials, sometimes high above the ground or out in the middle of the ocean, yet the oil and gas industry has an enviable safety record—one of the best among industries in the US. The number of engineers with primary responsibility for safety is expected to continue to grow. Something as simple as the design of a hand-railing on a stair can be crucially important when you’re on an offshore platform hundreds of miles from shore.


Are you interested capturing the world’s most abundant energy source?

Solar engineers focus on creating systems that put the sun’s power to work for the planet’s energy needs. They study the properties of solar radiation and how to build and test devices to collect solar energy and use it as electricity, for heating water or in other valuable ways.