The energy sector is a major source of jobs in the United States, employing 7.8 million Americans in 2021 alone. Energy jobs have also shown steady growth in recent years—at a rate faster than that of the U.S. workforce overall.
In fact, gas and oil companies remain a major source of energy jobs in the U.S. despite increasing interest in renewable energy sources. On top of that, oil and gas is still the place to go if you want to rake in the big bucks—it’s one of the highest-paying fields in energy.
Just what kinds of jobs are available in the oil and gas production industry? Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of this career path, plus view a list of some top oil and gas careers.
What it’s like working in oil and gas production
Oil and gas production has its perks, but we won’t lie: It isn’t for everyone. Here are some advantages and disadvantages to help you decide if working in the oil and gas field is something you should pursue.
The oil and gas sector offers plenty of benefits worth exploring. Here are some pros.
The oil and gas sector offers diverse jobs. All kinds of gigs are available, from boots-on-the-ground roles like welding and trucking to office jobs like project management.
That means you can pick up many handy (and transferable) skills in this sector.
For example, several industries outside energy need project managers. Health care, finance, and higher education are just a few industries needing project management skills.
The oil & gas industry is evolving alongside broader changes in the energy sector. For example, people are increasingly looking toward renewable and clean energy sources.
Oil and gas must figure out how to keep up, meaning new job opportunities ahead.
Technology is also creating new growth opportunities in oil and gas. For example, the field is increasingly using robotics and automation.
For tech-savvy job candidates, this means more options.
Dreaming of globe-trotting? Oil and natural gas may very well be right for you. Workers must extract oil and gas on-site. If you have a field role, like a drilling engineer for gas wells or a petroleum geologist in oil fields, you’ll likely have to travel.
You can find onshore drilling sites all over the world—from Texas to the Middle East and Africa. And offshore oil rigs are literally out in the open water (for example, off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico).
Real talk: What can you expect to earn if you work in oil and gas production? We alluded to this in the intro, but the field pays well. The next section will give you an overview of career opportunities and their average salaries.
But to give you an idea of what’s possible, here’s a quick stat: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), petroleum engineers earn a median annual salary of $130,850 (as of 2021).
Compare that to the national average of $45,760—it’s nearly three times as much!
We won’t pretend a career in oil and gas is perfect (what job is?). The career has some drawbacks, too.
Petroleum products like crude oil aren’t environmentally friendly. More people know and understand the risks of carbon emissions and how they impact climate change.
This can make oil and gas an unattractive field.
If you’re concerned about the environment, this may not be the right path for you. Let’s put it this way: Pulling up to work at an oil and gas company in your Prius would be pretty hypocritical.
That said, everybody has their own priorities! You do you.
You can face risky conditions when working in the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas is among the top ten most dangerous jobs you can have—sharing the dubious honor with jobs like logging and roofing.
What makes oil and gas working conditions risky? The most common fatal accidents are related to contact with dangerous objects or equipment and transportation incidents.
Common drilling operations injuries include flammable chemical burns, falls, and fire- or explosion-related injuries.
This is a great example of how choosing the best job for you depends on your personal preferences. While some people may welcome the travel demanded by oil and gas jobs, others may not like constantly shifting locations.
That’s why this is a pro and a con.
If you prefer having a job in one place, you may not want to deal with fieldwork. You must also consider practicalities like visa and immigration requirements if you’re going overseas.
Lack of stability
Oil and gas offers great money and currently has good job prospects, meaning a stable working environment.
A shortage of qualified workers means skilled people are in high demand.
However, the lack of a concrete location can undermine that sense of stability. You often must be open to moving to pursue the top opportunities. For some people, this can create an unwelcome sense of rootlessness.
Choosing the best oil and gas job
Another benefit of the oil and gas industry is the sheer diversity when it comes to the types of jobs available. There’s something for everyone, from entry-level roles requiring little more than a high school diploma to senior management positions requiring advanced degrees and years of experience.
Here are some of our top picks.
Reservoir engineers help locate potential oil and gas reserves below the Earth’s surface and determine how to extract energy reserves. They also help figure out how to maximize oil and gas output and oversee extraction operations.
Median salary: $123,653 per year
Educational requirements: Bachelor’s degree in engineering or similar
- Resistant to stress
Hydrographic surveyors use modern technology to create detailed maps of harbors, seabeds, and waterways. In oil and gas, they contribute to the setup of offshore rigs, helping position and implement these massive structures.
Average salary: $70,395 per year
Educational requirements: Bachelor’s degree in geology, geography, or engineering; surveyor’s certification
- Good visual skills
- Knowledge of surveying and mapping tools
Welders work on oil rigs, helping build and maintain the metal structures of the oil wells. Oil rig welding often involves joining metal structures that are partially submerged in water. It’s a risky job that involves high-pressure and high-temperature welding techniques.
Median salary: $68,980 per year
Educational requirements: High school diploma plus a two-year technical degree
- Physical strength and stamina
- Ability to work well under stress
Oil and gas trucking involves driving oversized vehicles in oil fields, including swab rigs, vacuum trucks, and water heater trucks. Drivers must follow strict safety protocols when transporting potentially hazardous goods, like hot oil.
Median salary: $52,986 per year
Educational requirements: High school diploma, commercial trucking license, and HAZMAT endorsement
- Excellent driver
- Team player
Project managers help oversee various projects for oil and gas companies. They may liaise between fieldworkers and management, oversee project deliverables and timelines, and meet with external vendors.
Average salary: $103,824 per year
Educational requirements: High school diploma minimum; advanced degree and project management certifications preferred
- Can work well under deadline pressure
Petroleum geologists work in the field, helping find oil and natural gas resources. They advise where to extract these resources and how to maximize extraction. They may also take samples back to labs for analysis.
Median salary: $113,049 per year
Educational requirements: Bachelor’s in engineering or geosciences
- Ready to travel
- Good physical fitness
- Excellent communication skills
Drilling engineers oversee the drilling that takes place at gas and oil wells. They create plans for drilling projects, set timelines and budgets, and oversee crews to ensure everyone’s safety. They also consider environmental regulations when drawing up plans.
Median salary: $103,826 per year
Educational requirements: Bachelor’s in engineering (petroleum, chemical, or mechanical)
- Willingness to travel and work in the field
- Strong leadership skills
- Good communication abilities
Chemical engineers may work for oil and gas companies by processing samples taken from the field. They may also help recover and refine fuels and propose solutions to potential drilling-related environmental issues.
Median salary: $81,928 per year
Educational requirements: Bachelor’s in chemical engineering
- Team player
Petroleum engineers work directly at oil wells or drilling sites. They design and implement methods for extracting resources from the Earth. They may also meet with management or clients while working in the field.
Average salary: $113,302 per year
Educational requirements: Bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering or similar (chemical, mechanical, or civil engineering)
- Problem-solving skills
- Interpersonal skills
Geoscientists work outdoors, studying the physical aspects of the Earth to determine where to best extract oil and gas resources. They need to be physically fit and willing and able to travel for fieldwork.
Average salary: $110,629 per year
Educational requirements: Bachelor’s degree in geoscience
- Analytical mindset
- Excellent verbal and written communication
Plenty of entry-level job opportunities in the oil and gas production industry are available. While the best-paying jobs require a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree, you can still get a gig with your high school diploma or GED.
Try these options:
- Engineering. An engineering degree can pave the path to roles like reservoir engineer, drilling engineer, chemical engineer, or petroleum engineer.
- Geosciences. Degrees in geology, geography, or similar can open up job opportunities like a hydrographic surveyor, petroleum geologist, or geoscientist.
- High school diploma. You don’t need a fancy degree to work in oil and gas. A high school diploma can open you up to opportunities as a welder or truck driver.
The energy sector is evolving, especially as people worry more about climate change. You might think this is bad news for the oil and gas sector. Rest assured; it’s not disappearing quite yet.
Real talk: Oil and gas took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic—like pretty much every industry. Stay-at-home orders and trends like decreased air travel played a role. However, the industry has picked back up.
There is still heavy demand for oil and gas, as sufficient clean energy sources aren’t yet available to meet worldwide demand. Plus, a lot of young people are avoiding the O&G sector, meaning less competition for good jobs.
If you want to secure your future in the field, our tip is to focus on roles that might translate to other energy fields. For example, energy sectors from solar power to hydropower need geoscientists, chemical engineers, and welders.
Is oil and gas production the right industry for you?
Is oil and gas the right career path for you? It depends on your preferences. If you’re a die-hard environmentalist, probably not. If you’re eager to work in energy and want to rake in the cash, there’s nothing to stop you.
You don’t even need a college degree to work in a lower-level position. That said, advanced degrees can pave the way to the highest-paying jobs.
If you decide that oil and gas is for you, start scoping out options on Handshake. Create your personal profile and let employers come to you. It’s that easy.