sub-surface engineering - College of Engineering & Natural Sciences

sub-surface engineering

Create a sustainable future with a petroleum engineering degree

There’s no doubt: Green energy is the future.  

And in addition to producing hydrocarbons, petroleum engineers are going to play a vital role in helping the world reduce carbon emissions and develop cleaner methods to produce fossil fuels. 

partial view of a man holding a white hardhat in front of an oil refinery with the sun shining through itWhile renewable sources such as solar, wind and nuclear will provide more of the world’s energy needs in coming years, oil and gas will be a critical part of the mix for decades to come.  

  • In 2040, oil is still expected to be the world’s number-one energy source, according to a 2019 study by Resources for the Future, an independent, non-profit think tank.
  • And new wells will be needed: A February 2021 report by McKinsey & Co. showed that, at minimum, oil production will need to climb by 23 million barrels a day to fill demand. 

Graduates of petroleum engineering programs will be at the forefront of ensuring new wells are responsibly located and rely on the most energy-efficient techniques to harvest resources. Many major oil and gas companies recognize the need to sustain oil and gas production in the foreseeable future to fill the world’s energy needs. They would like to use environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies to produce these hydrocarbons. While producing the needed hydrocarbons, oil companies recognize the need to reduce their carbon footprint. For example, ExxonMobil said it would spend $3 billion to cut emissions over the next five years, much of it on technology designed to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) before it gets to the atmosphere. And BP and Royal Dutch Shell have each promised to be net-zero emission from production by 2050.  

As a petroleum engineer, you’ll be involved at every stage of the process to extract oil and gas from the Earth. Petroleum engineers identify where resources are likely to be found. They analyze whether it makes sense, financially, to recover them. They develop the technical process to drill. And they oversee transfer of those resources to refinery. Mastering those skills means developing a keen understanding of geologic processes taking place far below the earth’s surface. Increasingly, petroleum engineers will use their knowledge of geology to do more than extract oil and gas. For example, you might identify reservoirs below the surface that can store CO2, or locate sources of geothermal energy that can be converted to electricity.  

You might even work on ways to store energy produced by wind and solar, because while those power sources are becoming more important, they don’t work if the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.  

For their expertise in sub-surface engineering, petroleum engineers have long commanded high salaries. As the industry adapts to a changing world, this expertise will remain in high demand. In 2021, the typical petroleum engineer makes $137,720 a year, among the top-paying jobs of all. And while the field is growing, an aging workforce means even more positions will become available. 

When energy companies talk about going net-zero, petroleum engineers will play an important part in ensuring each of those steps is as eco-friendly as possible. 

As a student in the University of Tulsa’s McDougall School of Petroleum Engineering — one of the top schools in the country — you will be exposed to how petroleum engineers can do an effective job in the energy-transition economy. You will learn about CO2 sequestration in sub-surface, intermittent storage of hydrogen and compressed air, sustainable water management and geothermal energy. 

“This isn’t the same oil and gas industry that existed 10, or even 5, years ago,” said Mohan Kelkar, the chair of TU’s McDougall School of Petroleum Engineering. “Every hydrocarbon producer recognizes the need to diversify. Still, oil and gas aren’t disappearing. We’ll still need commercial transport, plastics, concrete and fertilizer, all of which come from petroleum. We’ll still use natural gas to heat homes and generate electricity. But we need to make sure the next generation of petroleum engineer is ready to do it as cleanly as possible.” 

Study petroleum engineering at TU 

The McDougall School of Petroleum Engineering is the largest department at TU. When you graduate, you’ll join thousands of alums of this program — and you’ll put yourself in position to land a great job. More than 95% of our grads find employment within six months of graduation. Our students are in demand because they’re ready to hit the ground running: You’ll not only learn on software and equipment used in the field, but you’ll have the chance to participate in research projects sponsored by some of the world’s biggest energy firms.