Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Those Rich Petroleum Engineers

The Wall Street Journal yesterday had a poorly written opinion piece that was a mix of odds and ends that never really seemed to find its stride. The overall message is something of the following: petroleum engineering jobs are paying extremely well ($97,000 starting) but most schools are doing research on alternative energies and are brainwashing students not to go into petroleum engineering. Or since many schools don't offer that major, the students are also being guided away from what the author thought was alternative majors, such as Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences?!? I told you it was a bad opinion piece. Chemical Engineering is the traditional alternative to petroleum engineering, not Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Lots of schools offer chemical engineering. It's a very popular major and showing no signs of dropping off, but saying that wouldn't help the author make whatever thin argument he was trying to stretch for.

Overlooking completely the implications
  1. that colleges should be guiding students to the most lucrative careers
  2. that research grants for improving petroleum processing are non-existent
  3. that research grants for alternative energy research are much more available
let me use this article as a platform to make a simple prediction about that shockingly high starting salary:

It's only going to get higher.

Whether or not the environmental movement is controlling this, that or the other thing, the petroleum industry is not going to go away anytime soon. While alternatives exist, they are nowhere near effective enough to replace the petroleum we are using, in large part because the magnitude of the world's energy needs is almost incomprehensibly large. You can put a number on it with a huge row of zeros, and as technical people we can say yes, that is a large number, but it is too large to really have a feel for what it means. So consider this anecdote instead: Drilling offshore oil wells is much more expensive than on land. Everything is far more difficult, the equipment is constantly corroding in the salt water. The ships used to drill the wells rent for $1 million a day and it can take a week or more to complete one well. Yet no oil company (independent or national) wants to stop making the investments. "Drill baby! Drill" is the battle cry.

Since the petroleum industry is not disappearing anytime soon and fewer people are apparently looking at petroleum engineering as a career, it makes it pretty easy to see that salaries are only going to go up. There is no choice. The industry needs the people and they can pay more to get them (and pass the costs onto you!).

I'm not opposing research into alternatives at all. At some point, they will play a critical role, but not yet, not any time soon.

Previous Years
April 9, 2013 - Can We All Get Along?

April 9, 2012 - Poor Posed Concerns About Chemical Safety

April 9, 2010 - A Neat New Set of Solvents

No comments: