It doesn't roll off of the tongue quite like "doctor" or "lawyer" does, but "petroleum engineer" could be a contender for the kind of similar, sensible career that parents often wish for their kids. Because the oil business is so lucrative and petroleum engineers have a unique set of skills, petroleum engineers have long enjoyed a healthy position in the job market. But thanks to a confluence of events, the U.S. job market is now particularly friendly to the profession.
There are approximately 28,000 petroleum engineers in the United States, according to the most recent estimate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, taken in May 2013. That number is up from just under 15,000 six years ago. By way of comparison, there are approximately 560,000 lawyers working in the U.S., according to Bureau estimates from May 2010. Enrollment in petroleum engineering programs at universities is swelling, and for a host of reasons, most notably the rising price of oil.
What’s more in the past five years or so, big, wealthy American companies have gained access to new oil and gas reserves on their home turf. These new oil and gas reserves are in a type of rock called shale, which is abundant in the U.S. Beginning about five years ago, it became cost-effective for major oil companies to drill for oil and gas in shale rock formations in the United States due to a method -- often referred to as fracking -- that involves fracturing the surrounding rock. Since fracking has taken off, big companies have turned their attention to the roughly 30 areas in the U.S. available for shale development in the United States.
America's two biggest oil and gas companies, ExxonMobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) increased their shale assets recently: Chevron bought over 220,000 acres on the Marcellus shale in southern Pennsylvania this past May, and ExxonMobil acquired rights to over 300,000 new acres of land near Marcellus this past June. As of 2009, shale gas made up 14% of the U.S. natural gas supply, according to the Energy Information Association. The EIA expects it to contribute 45% of the U.S. gas supply by 2035. Oil will play a major part in fulfilling American energy needs for the foreseeable future, and gas is becoming more and more important, meaning companies that sell those fuels will still need skilled workers to figure out the best way to get them out of the ground.
So the next time your child tells you that they are on the fence about that law degree, petroleum engineering, anyone?