Though the oil industry may be one of the most vilified, especially in the months after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, some Cornellians are still looking towards oil to provide promising, post-college job options.
According to Mark Savage, director of Career Services in the College of Engineering, an average of 22 Cornell graduates go to work in the oil industry per year. This is based on self-reported data from the past three years. Savage notes that events like the oil spill categorically do not have a huge impact on the recruitment of engineers to that industry.
“Engineers look at that and say, ‘what can we do to prevent them in the future?’ They want to go forth and do good things,” Savage said.
According to Savage, starting salaries in the oil industry are competitive with salaries in technology, consulting and financial services. Some of the oil companies that traditionally hire Cornell students are Exxon Mobil, Shell, Schlumberger, ConocoPhillips, Sunoco, Chevron and Saudi Aramco.
However, according to chemical engineering senior lecturer Al Center, the jobs at these high-profile companies are going to get more dangerous in years to come. Companies have started to look at procedures for deep drilling, or “subsea.” This type of drilling involves considering far more safety and efficiency factors, including the pressure of the water on the equipment, he said.
“It adds a whole different dimension to how you assure the safety of what you’re going to do,” Center said. “Seventy miles out in the ocean, it’s a much more complex operation.”
Center worked for Caltex Petroleum Co. for 30 years. His job took him to the Middle East, the Philippines, Japan, London, and Dallas, before he retired in Jan. 1999.
“In my own experience, it’s a fascinating business. It’s so multi-faceted, and you’re not pigeon-holed by what you’re doing. You’re always faced with new challenges, and it can keep you mentally engaged for your entire career,” Center said.
Chemical engineers are especially in demand at companies that practice offshore drilling, and are often hired as reservoir engineers. Chemical engineers also commonly work in flow assurance jobs, which involve transporting the oil from the well to the ships to the shores.
In addition to providing good job matches for engineers, the oil industry can also be particularly lucrative, depending on where one works.
“You can go to really neat places and really awful places,” Center said.
Most of the oil jobs in the United States are in Louisiana and Texas. Abroad, most are in the Middle East or places like Western Siberia.
Zach Weiss ’10, a chemical engineering graduate, works at Exxon Mobil Headquarters in Houston, Texas. According to Weiss, safety is a big part of the company culture. “The spill was unfortunate, but all you can do is try to be as safe as possible.”
Prof. Andrew Hunter, chemical engineering, who has worked in and around oil fields, echoed Center’s sentiments that the oil industry can provide particularly sound careers, especially for engineers.
“Most companies are very well run. The last 30 years in the business have had huge ups and downs, and so the survivors take things in their stride,” Hunter said.
At the present, Hunter recommends working in oil. “I would recommend that, early on, the student get as much field experience as possible — it’s applicable in all walks of life.”
Weiss also has no qualms about working for the oil industry. He feels that there is a strong culture of hard work and that the people in the business take pride in their work.
“Everyone needs oil, no matter how much it’s vilified,” Weiss said.
Mark Savage noted that alternative and sustainable energy is also a growing area of interest, even for certain oil companies that are exploring new divisions and interests. He said that an increasing number of graduates are finding themselves involved in researching solar panels and fuel cells, and that although there is promise for this field, its vision is more long-term.
“They’re going to grow partly because there’s a need in the economy for this type of energy,” Savage said.
Ian Falik ’10, who is leaving for Western Siberia next month to work in the drilling and measurements division of Schlumberger, an oilfield services company, noted that although alternative energy can be an ideal long-term vision, oil is still necessary in everyday business.
“Many people think that we can just switch to solar panels or natural gas tomorrow, but that’s not the case. In many areas we won’t be able to use them, so we will have to keep using oil,” Falik said.