Fields Within the Oil Industry

The oil industry offers many opportunities in different fields, including drilling for exploration and production. Certain jobs in oilfield drilling may only be available for people with a bachelor’s or higher level degree, while others may require only a high school education. For some jobs, such as pipeline operations, the technical expertise gained from years of hands-on experience might be considered equivalent to a college degree. Pipeline operators can obtain certification based on their work experience as well as their education. Since offshore drillers deal with the hostile environment of deepwater drilling projects, this particular job may require high technical expertise.

Research scientists generally need a bachelor’s or advanced degree to succeed in this industry. These scientists may work in different areas, including environmental, seismic, refining, natural gas processing, natural gas transmission, drilling, etc. Gas station owners usually need to have business skills, an entrepreneurial spirit, and capital for investment. Business managers who work in oil also need expertise in management as well as a strong understanding of international and national markets and trends.

Fields Within the Oil Industry

Business Management

Oil industry executives manage operations to ensure that corporate objectives are met. Chief executive officers (CEOs) must create these goals and policies but often delegate work to others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Although the chief executive officer of a corporation retains overall accountability, a chief operating officer may be delegated several responsibilities, including the authority to oversee other executives who direct the activities of various departments and implement the organization’s guidelines on a day-to-day basis. In publicly held and nonprofit corporations, the board of directors or a similar governing body ultimately is accountable for the success or failure of the enterprise and the chief executive officer reports to the board. In addition to being responsible for the operational success of a company, top executives, particularly chief financial officers, are accountable for the accuracy of their financial reporting, especially among publicly traded companies.”

Competition can be fierce for these top-level executive positions because there are relatively few available positions. Business-minded individuals can pursue other, lower-level management jobs, becoming a vice president, director, manager, or supervisor. Most management positions require a college degree, however, although professional expertise might be considered equivalent in some cases.

Top- and senior-level management positions remain prestigious in terms of both status and compensation. According to the 2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Top executives are among the highest paid workers; however, long hours, considerable travel, and intense pressure to succeed are common.” Many high-level oil industry executives have risen through the ranks with an engineering background by demonstrating management ability and finishing projects on time and on budget.

The handbook also identifies the qualities that executives need, as follows: “Top executives must have highly developed personal qualities and be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. An analytical mind, the ability to analyze large amounts of information and data quickly, and the ability to evaluate the relationships among numerous factors, also are important qualities. For managers to succeed, they need other important qualities as well, including leadership, self-confidence, motivation, decisiveness, flexibility, sound business judgment, and determination.”

According to the handbook, the number of top executive positions is expected to hold steady in the next decade, with over two million jobs in all fields. Median annual wages for operations managers in 2008 were $113,690; however, this may not include other compensation like company cars, health insurance, club memberships, and/or performance-based bonuses or stock options.

Oil and Gas Specialists

Oil and gas specialist options include jobs in petroleum engineering. According to the 2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Petroleum engineers design methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the earth. Once these resources have been discovered, petroleum engineers work with geologists and other specialists to understand the geologic formation and properties of the rock containing the reservoir, to determine the drilling methods to be used, and to monitor drilling and production operations. They design equipment and processes to achieve the maximum profitable recovery of oil and gas. Because only a small proportion of oil and gas in a reservoir flows out under natural forces, petroleum engineers develop and use various enhanced recovery methods, including injecting water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reservoir to force out more of the oil and doing computer-controlled drilling or fracturing to connect a larger area of a reservoir to a single well. Because even the best techniques in use today recover only a portion of the oil and gas in a reservoir, petroleum engineers research and develop technology and methods for increasing the recovery of these resources and lowering the cost of drilling and production operations.

Petroleum engineers generally need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and public-sector engineers also need to meet continuing education and state licensing requirements. The handbook states, “Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers interact more frequently with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.”

The handbook also notes that the job of petroleum engineer is expected to experience rapid growth in the next 10 years. “Excellent opportunities are expected for petroleum engineers because the number of job openings is likely to exceed the relatively small number of graduates. Petroleum engineers work around the world, and in fact, the best employment opportunities may include some work in other countries.”

The 2008 median salary for petroleum engineers was $108,020, which is one of the highest starting salaries compared to other engineers. The top salaries earned by petroleum engineers in 2008 actually exceeded $166,400, which is one reason why engineers might decide to pursue petroleum engineering.

Pipeline Operators

Pipeline operators manage the safe and effective transportation of natural gas, refined products, crude oil, or liquefied natural gas products through pipelines from wells to refineries or processing plants and then onto nationwide markets. According to the 2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Pump operators tend, control, and operate pump and manifold systems that transfer gases, oil, or other materials to vessels or equipment. They maintain the equipment and regulate the flow of materials according to a schedule set up by petroleum engineers or production supervisors. Gas compressor and gas pumping station operators operate steam, gas, electric motor, or internal combustion engine-driven compressors. They transmit, compress, or recover gases, such as butane, nitrogen, hydrogen, and natural gas.”

Natural gas pipeline operators may work at field offices that maintain large compressor stations in different parts of the country. According to the Department of Energy report titled “Natural Gas Compressor Stations on the Interstate Pipeline Network: Developments Since 1996,” there are approximately 1,200 natural gas compressor stations in the United States, most of which are now automated, or controlled by a central location. Operating 24 hours a day, compressor stations usually have multiple compressors that are brought online or taken offline as needed.

Those who work in the field offices perform maintenance on the pipeline and the compressors. A gas control center monitors the pressures up and down the line as well as other conditions such as the temperature and moisture content of natural gas. The gas control department accepts deliveries from the wellhead or gathering systems per contractual arrangements and then dispatches the gas to its final location. Gas controllers also interact with other pipeline workers to perform exchanges or other transportation services. Both field personnel and gas controllers work in shifts since pipelines operate around the clock. Safety is a primary concern for pipeline operators, who must wear safety equipment like hard hats, safety shoes and goggles at compressor stations.

According to the 2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Despite little or no change in employment, numerous job openings will be created by the need to replace workers who leave this very large occupation”—for the entire transportation field, not just pipeline operators.

The median annual wage for gas compressor and pumping station operators was approximately $43,000 in 2008. Those working for large interstate pipelines receive additional benefits, including health insurance and retirement plans, as well.

Gas Station Owners

Gas station owners do not always earn salaries but rely on profits from fuel sales, vehicle repairs, and convenience store or food services. Gas stations may be independent, which means they are not bound to a specific oil company and can purchase gasoline and diesel fuel from any wholesaler. Affiliated gasoline stations, however, must buy fuel from their specific supplier, including Mobil, Chevron, or other major brands.

According to a CNNMoney article by Parija Kavilanz (“Gas station owners: Don’t call us gougers!” March 2, 2011), gas station owners actually do not benefit from rising gas prices. Because escalating prices often leads to more credit cards purchases rather than cash, the station must pay 3% of the sales price in credit card fees. When gasoline is selling for $3.39 per gallon, the station owner loses about 10 cents per gallon, which means convenience store sales could be more profitable.

Oil industry careers are ideal for people who adapt easily to change—in this case, changing oil prices, increasing environmental regulations, and challenging customer service issues. Many gas stations offer extended hours, which unfortunately, puts those employees at risk of attempted robbery. Gas station owners typically hire people to work in shifts to manage the station and often a convenience store as well. When stations also offer vehicle repairs, the owners have to hire and supervise mechanics.

Those interested in owning and operating a gas station need a large amount of capital to invest. For example, an independent gas and service station for sale in Middlesex County, Mass., is listed on BuyBusiness.com for $149,000, and this does not include the real estate price tag of $499,000. Since gas station owners are not salaried employees, there are scant data about annual income. However, this same advertisement provides a way for potential gas station owners to estimate their earnings, which in this case, average approximately $78,646. Prospects for gas station owners are expected to remain high since most people use a vehicle as their primary means of transportation.

Another challenge for prospective and current gas station owners is dealing with ongoing environmental regulations, such as the recent law requiring owners to upgrade all underground storage tanks from single-walled to double-walled. According to an article by Kaitlyn Defoto on Newsday.com (August 12, 2010), the new regulations by Suffolk and Nassau Counties in New York are driving gas stations out of business because of the high cost of replacing existing tanks with double-walled fiberglass tanks.

Offshore Drillers

Several different positions await those interested in pursuing a career in offshore oil drilling. For instance, the Diamond Offshore Web site lists two positions that are available as of January 27, 2011. The first position is Electronics Technician, which requires at least two years of experience, a training certificate from a recognized technical program, and knowledge of various test equipment and PLC controls and automation.

The second position is Subsea Specialist, which is described as “a hands-on position based on an offshore drilling rig. Responsibilities include performing proper maintenance, monitoring, and operation of the subsea systems and equipment onboard the rig.” The ad also specifies the following: “To qualify for the Subsea Specialist position, you must possess the following: two-plus years of total Subsea experience; ability to operate a fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-generation rig with little to no assistance. Proficient with Conventional Hydraulic/Hydraulic systems and/or MUX Electric/Hydraulic systems. Efficient in conducting day-to-day operations on the rig. Possess a full understanding and working knowledge of BOP’s, Tensioners, and all other relevant equipment. Ability to manage and control equipment inventory. Proficient in using Microsoft Office.…Other job functions include familiarity with all company safety policies and procedures; participation in onboard safety meetings, drills, and onboard training.”

Diamond Offshore states that it provides opportunities for promotion, salary increases based on competency, low-cost benefits, a rotational schedule (i.e., 21 days on and 21 days off), and possible international placement. Benefits include accidental death and dismemberment insurance; disability insurance; medical, dental and prescription drug coverage; and a 401 (K) plan, along with other optional benefits.

The Subsea Specialist job also requires that the applicant is able to manage and control equipment inventory and to use Microsoft Office. This position does not require a college degree but specific types of experience.

Diamond Offshore does not list the salaries offered on its Web site, but a brief survey of other sites reveals that starting salaries for offshore–rig jobs average $50,000 annually. Other offshore drilling companies are Transocean, Pride International Inc., Ensco, Hercules, Rowan Companies, K&M, and many others. Ongoing job prospects will likely remain high as the oil industry continues to focus on off-shore opportunities. These jobs do have drawbacks, however, including the extended time spent away from family and dangers such as those in the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Research Scientists

Oil companies also hire research scientists for various positions including enhancing oil recovery, assessing environmental impact and risks, and improving the output of refineries or gas plants. These oil careers may require international travel and relocation; for example, the Saudi Aramco Web site describes an available position, as follows:

“We seek an experienced Spectroscopy Specialist to join The Research and Development Center. This division is responsible [for] establishing a research competency in laser applications in the oil industry. The Research and Development Center conducts pioneering research, introduces new technology and provides specialized technical services that will enhance Saudi Aramco profitability and productivity in a cost-effective, timely, and collaborative manner.

The Engineering and Project Management (E&PM) business line studies, plans, and oversees the construction of the Company’s new facilities, including some of the biggest and most complex projects in the petroleum industry. Recently, Saudi Aramco completed the largest capital program in its history that included new or expanded oil, gas and petrochemical facilities, raising maximum sustainable crude oil production capacity to 12 [NOTE: Should this read “1.2 million” as per below?] million barrels per day and significantly increasing gas production and processing capacities. Among the recently completed projects was the largest crude oil increment in the history of the industry— Khurais, with a production capacity of 1.2 million barrels per day. More challenges lie ahead, with a slate of new or expanded oil, gas, refining and petrochemical projects in the works. E&PM also manages the Company’s Research and Development Center where scientists investigate topics such as the desulfurization of crude oil, advanced fuel formulations for next-generation combustion engines, and reservoir nano-scale robots (Resbots™) for injection into reservoirs to record their properties.”

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, but a master’s or doctorate is preferred. The salary is not listed on the site, but the company indicates that it pays a competitive salary and provides benefits such as retirement, savings, and insurance plans. Employees are also paid annually for travel costs from Saudi Arabia to the point-of-origin for the employee and eligible dependents. The company also states that it provides in-country healthcare through company-owned or contracted hospitals and clinics.

Many oil companies hire research scientists, especially large corporations like Mobil, BP, and Chevron–Texaco. For example, Chevron has advertised for an Earth Scientist Developer, Seismic Interpretation and Earth Modeling R&D position located in Houston, Texas. According to a brief survey of industry Web sites listing salary information, oil research scientists earn approximately $100,000 a year when working in the United States, but salaries tend to be higher for overseas positions. However, in the latter scenario, moving a family to another country may have other drawbacks.

More Career Options

Some of the oil careers now available relate less frequently to the production of oil and gas than to company operations. For example, procurement is essential to the success of all types of oil industry companies. Unless the procurement department delivers necessary supplies such as drilling pipe, drill bits, drilling mud, and other equipment to the rig on time, the whole project could be held up at a cost of hundreds of thousands per day. The procurement department not only has to get the right materials there on time but also must stay on budget.

Procurement specialists need to have an engineering, business management, or other technical degree; strong communication and analytical skills; and experience with contracts. Procurement specialists must also be able to evaluate potential suppliers to ensure that their products meet industry specifications and standards and that they can make delivery deadlines. Often procurement specialists work with suppliers to help them solve internal problems—a process termed “supply chain management”—which can be a benefit to the supplier as well as the oil company.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Overall employment of purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents is expected to increase 7 percent during the 2008–18 decade. Median annual 2008 wages were $89,160.”

Job candidates with administrative experience will also find many opportunities in the oil industry. Field offices along interstate pipelines often have an administrative assistant or office manager who is responsible for tracking required employee training, ordering supplies, and for negotiating contracts for office cleaning and other expenses. These jobs may be salaried or hourly and may include benefits such as health insurance and/or a 401(k) plan. Such administrative positions usually require job candidates to obtain safety training and to possess strong communication, organizational, and computer skills.

According to the handbook, “Median annual wages for secretaries and administrative assistants in 2008 were $29,050 and employment is expected to increase by about 11 percent over the next 10 years.”

Overall, people who are interested in oil industry professions have plenty of options to consider for both lucrative and fulfilling work.

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