When people think of oil careers, they may picture only those workers who drill for oil and gas. The image of the roughneck wearing a hard hat, watching oil gush from the well is often shown in movies but is not very realistic. Oil drilling companies do not really want a “gusher” but prefer to control the oil and natural gas underground so that it can be sent to refineries or gas transmission pipelines to be sold. The recent BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shows the serious and destructive consequences of losing control of oil flows.
Oil careers offer far more job opportunities besides oil drilling. Pipeline operators may manage oil, refined products, or gas pipelines. For example, the Trans Alaska Pipeline System is one of the world’s largest such systems, running 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to the Valdez terminal, where ships then transport the oil is to refineries. Natural gas may be produced from associated gas or natural gas wells before pipeline transmission. Associated natural gas is transported to natural gas processing plants that separate the gas from almost all other materials except methane. The “dry” gas is then sold and transported by pipelines, such as the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest and the mid-Atlantic.
In addition to oil and gas production, other oil careers include oil refining, gas processing, research, and retail sales of gasoline. One type of research provides seismic databases in both two- and three-dimensional forms that oil companies can use to find promising areas for drilling. Although some research firms have their own seismic technicians, many purchase seismic data from companies that specialize in this. Other research involves the development of new drilling techniques, such as those used for deepwater drilling, and research on refining and formulating gasoline or other fuels.
The oil industry also offers many opportunities for those specializing in business management; for example, businesspeople are responsible for creating drilling programs. These programs can be established with a general partner, several limited partners, and/or investors who contribute the capital needed to drill in a specific region. Financial specialists can handle the accounting for oil and gas production or for natural gas pipeline transactions. In addition, contract administration specialists can administer “division orders,” or the royalty payments, for people who own the land leased for drilling and production. Finally, a “landman” secures the leases required to permit drilling on any property and negotiates royalty payments to landowners.
Marketing specialists will also find many career opportunities in the oil industry. Pipeline companies separated their marketing and transportation services after the deregulation of natural gas wellhead prices in 1989 and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 636 ruling in 1992. Afterward, many natural gas marketing companies began to purchase natural gas at the wellhead and sold it to markets nationwide. The pipelines moved the gas to the point of sale, charging for transportation.
Many oil companies hire petroleum engineers who focus on oil and gas production. Petroleum engineers use their knowledge of the physical properties of subsurface reservoirs to estimate the reserves available for production. Still other types of engineers plan and develop refineries, natural gas plants, and pipelines.
Environmental specialists can also take advantage of opportunities in the oil industry. These jobs may focus on preventing environmental contamination at drilling sites and during facility construction or on environmental cleanup after a spill has occurred.