Your choice of a major is as important to your future earnings as the decision to attend college in the first place, according to a Georgetown University report. A four-year degree increases median lifetime pay by 84 percent, compared to high school only. The median annual salary of all workers with a bachelor's in petroleum engineering was $120,000 as of 2009, higher than for any other bachelor's degree. Petroleum engineers continue to command high salaries.
The average starting salary with a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering was $93,500 annually in 2013, according to the National Association of Colleges (NACE) and Employers salary survey. Salaries were $73,800 per year or less for 25 percent of graduates, and 25 percent received $109,700 or more. The median pay, meaning half earned more, was $92,700 per year. Petroleum engineering grads received the highest starting pay of any undergraduate major in the survey, including both engineering and nonengineering disciplines. The NACE report included more than 50 majors in business, health sciences, natural sciences, humanities and social sciences.
National Pay Scale
The average annual income of 36,410 petroleum engineers nationwide was $147,470 in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary survey. The lowest-earning 25 percent received $97,860 per year or less, while the top 25 percent received at least $183,520 per year. The largest employer of petroleum engineers were oil and gas extraction firms, which had 19,880 engineers and paid an average of $161,050 annually. In second place, mining support paid 5,120 engineers an average annual salary of $113,740.
Oil and gas extraction was the highest-paying industry for petroleum engineers overall in 2012, according to the BLS. However, engineers in company management had the second-highest pay with an annual average of $160,680. Other top-paying employers include basic chemical manufacturing, where salaries averaged $146,270 per year, and scientific research and development, where annual incomes averaged $145,780.
Oklahoma led as the top-paying state in the BLS survey, paying petroleum engineers an average annual salary of $160,090 in 2012. In second place, engineers in Alaska received an average of $159,040 per year. In Virginia, wages averaged $154,810 annually, and in Texas, they averaged $154,160. Texas also reported 21,580 jobs for petroleum engineers, the most of any state. In addition, the greater Dallas region had average annual wages of $176,850, the top pay among metropolitan areas. Oklahoma City, where engineers averaged $176,460 per year, reported the second-highest pay among the cities.
The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) reported a median annual base pay of $145,000 for 2,989 U.S. membes responding to its 2012 salary survey. Total median pay came to $180,000 when adding bonuses and other compensation of $29,000. According to the SPE report, men earn more than women at every job level. As a technician/specialist, for example, women received total cash compensation of $165,294 annually, while men received $193,077. At the level of manager, women received $215,543 annually in total pay, while men received $248,618.
An accredited bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering is the basic requirement for entry-level jobs, but master's degrees are also available, including five-year programs combining both degrees. Prospects for new graduates are excellent. The BLS predicts a 17 percent increase in positions between 2010 and 2020, compared to 14 percent on average for all jobs. Growth will largely depend on price increases, which make more complex methods of extraction cost-effective. However, the retirement of older engineers will open up additional jobs, too.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Petroleum Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012: Petroleum Engineers
- University of Colorado: NACE Salary Survey -- April 2013
- Georgetown University: What's It Worth?
- Society of Petroleum Engineers: 2012 SPE Memebership Salary Survey Highlight Report
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images