Well drilling professionals manually or mechanically extract natural resources from the ground. You can prepare for the profession through undergraduate and graduate degree programs in a number of areas, including water, natural gas and petroleum well drilling. Additionally, apprenticeship options are available that could qualify you to earn required state licensure.
Drilling is a method used to extract natural resources, such as water, oil and gas, by cutting or drilling a hole into the earth. It requires knowledge and skills in geology and geotechnical operations, hydraulics, welding, math and specialized heavy machinery operations. Workers in this field can specialize in a particular resource or field, such as drilling, production, reservoir engineering or sales.
Employment in well drilling is frequently available with industry agencies, corporations and contractors. Some job possibilities include petroleum engineer, water well driller, natural gas engineer, drilling equipment service technician and sales representative. In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the highest concentration of oil and gas well drilling jobs were located in the Gulf Coast region, including sections of Texas and Louisiana (www.bls.gov). The BLS further reported that petroleum engineers earned a mean annual wage of $127,970 in 2010. As of December 2011, PayScale.com reported that most oil well drillers with 5-9 years of experience earned an annual salary ranging from $71,257-$178,793. For the majority of water well drillers, PayScale.com stated that the total annual salary ranged from $28,795-$75,511 during the same period.
Some jobs require little or no formal education, though you could find apprenticeship positions that can train you in the field and prepare you for any licensure requirements that are necessary. You can find apprenticeship programs through schools, businesses, state agencies and local unions. Some states might require you to obtain on-the-job training that you can get through an apprenticeship. These programs generally last 2-4 years, and some states regulate the type of work you can do as an apprentice.
You could also look for academic degree programs in the field. An Associate of Science in Well Construction Technology teaches you about equipment maintenance and repair, inspections, quality control and state regulations as well as courses in geology and chemistry. Practical training in the field focuses on the use of hydraulics, rotary rigs - equipment for drilling into rock - and power equipment.
A Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering program trains you to improve drilling operations for maximum oil and gas recovery. These programs might include courses in well testing, reservoir characterization, logging and methods for measuring well characteristics during the drilling process. Math, geology and other physical science subjects are also important. When studying to become a petroleum engineer, you might consider looking for degree programs approved by ABET, Inc., the accrediting organization that sets the recognized standards for engineering programs. To work as an engineer, you could work under a licensed engineer without obtaining a license yourself; however, to increase employment opportunities and demonstrate your engineering expertise, you could pursue full licensure through your state with a bachelor's degree and at least four years of experience.
If you're interested in graduate-level education, you could pursue a master's degree in petroleum engineering. Topics explore well drilling, oil recovery processes and petroleum production operations. After earning a master's degree, you could advance into doctoral studies that might allow you to choose a specialty, such as resource recovery, reservoir engineering or environmental engineering. With a doctoral degree, you could conduct independent research or become a college professor.
Aside from training and education, many states require you to either obtain a well drilling or pump installation license or work directly under a licensed well driller. Qualifying for licensure usually doesn't require formal education, but you'll generally need documented proof of experience in the field. You could need to pass a written test that covers state laws, construction standards, geology and well drilling equipment and procedures. To maintain your license, you might need to take continuing education courses.