Dr Amrita Das on a career generating 'liquid gold'

What is Petroleum Engineering?
No vehicle, house or industry can run without it. We use it for fuelling our automobiles, ships, and planes, for powering our industries, for domestic heating and cooking, as feedstock for the petrochemical industry (in plastics, polymers, paints, medicines, soaps...), for smooth roads, and even for smooth skin!

This is petroleum!
Petroleum and its related products are well worth their weight in gold for any country.

Petrol, gasoline, LPG, diesel oil, kerosene, bunker oil, heavy engine oils, asphalt, pitch or bitumen, Vaseline (petroleum jelly), mineral oil, set fuel, lubricants, compressed natural gas are all products made from petroleum.

This natural resource is the most important indicator of the economic growth of any country and thus, also referred to as Black Gold or Liquid Gold.

What do I have to do?
The petroleum industry is one of the biggest in the world and is broadly segmented into upstream and downstream sectors.

The exploration and production activities comprise the upstream sector, while refining, marketing and distribution activities fall into the downstream sector. The functions of the petroleum engineer comes under the upstream sector.

Petroleum engineers explore and help produce oil and natural gas. They are usually involved in every stage of oilfield evaluation, development and production to maximise hydrocarbon recovery.

They specialise in the discovery and production of oil and gas, in the refining, transportation and retail sectors of the oil and gas industry.

They apply the principles of geology, physics and the engineering sciences to the recovery, development and processing of petroleum.

Petroleum engineers often work in interdisciplinary teams with other professionals -geologists, geophysicists, well-log analysts, environmental/regulatory specialists, safety engineers, and others.

Discovery of natural sources, examination of natural characteristics, and development of modern machinery for extraction and processing - all fall under the scope of petroleum engineering.

What should I study?
You should have a science background with physics, chemistry and mathematics in Plus Two to pursue petroleum engineering at the bachelors level.

For an M. Tech degree, the eligibility is a B.Tech/BE in chemical/petroleum engineering or an M.Sc in chemistry.

In most institutes, the curriculum is so structured as to impart a good blend of knowledge in science, engineering and management skills to the students.

What are the prospects?
The petroleum industry has rich prospects! Options are open to geologists, geo-physicists and petroleum engineers for upstream activities and chemical, mechanical, electrical and instrumentation and production engineers in the downstream sectors.

These engineers are by great demand and are employed by petroleum producing companies, consulting engineering companies, well logging and testing companies as well as in research and educational institutions.

Research and development (R&D) plays a crucial role in improving manufacturing practices, updating processes in the refining of crude oil so as to get optimum yield.

Through R&D, refineries are able to alter the ratios of the different fractions based on crude oil characteristics to meet demand and maximise profit.

In India, the Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) at Dehradun is a premier R&D institute that does extensive research in this industry.

According to a 2004 salary survey in India, holders of bachelor's degrees in petroleum engineering received starting offers averaging Rs2,519,415 (Dh201,538) per annum.

The opening up of the Indian petroleum industry for private investment coupled with the dismantling of price controls and the increasing consumption of petroleum products have given this industry a new and much-needed exploration scope.

Where to study? Options in India

The following institutions offer BE/BTech courses in Petrochemical/ Petroleum Engineering:

  • Maharashtra Institute of Technology (University of Pune)
    S. No. 124, Kothrud, Paud Road, Pune. 411038
  • Aligarh Muslim University, Institute of Petroleum Studies & Chemical Engineering, Aligarh 202002
    (Also offers an MSc in Petroleum Processing and Petrochem)
  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad. 826004
  • Nagpur University, Laxminarayan Institute of Technology, Nagpur 440010
  • University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun
  • Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Technological University, PO Lonere, Tal Mangaon, Distt. Raigad. 402103
  • Bharatidasan Institute of Engineering and Technology, Tiruchirapalli-620024

For postgraduate studies in Petroleum Engineering

  • IIT Guwahati - M.Tech in petroleum refinery engineering

You can consider applying for Gus Archie Memorial Scholarship (www.spe.org) which is offered by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, USA, at two institutes in India - the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad and Maharashtra Institute of Technology, Pune.