In oil boom, petroleum engineers hottest commodity

Wed Jan 18, 2012 11:28am EST
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By Kristen Hays

HOUSTON (Reuters) - While millions of college grads look forlornly into the worst U.S. job market in decades, Emily Woner pretty much guaranteed herself one of America's best-paid post-graduate jobs before she ever set foot on campus.

Spurred by an early interest in following her father's footsteps into the oil sector, Woner secured a post-high school internship with Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp (DVN.N: Quote).

After summers spent riding seismic trucks in the Barnett shale, designing water pipelines in east Texas and helping model oil reservoirs in Wyoming, she's now a 22-year-old senior at the University of Tulsa waiting to take a job in one the country's most sought-after professions: petroleum engineering.

"I'm really lucky. In my class, a lot of us are already committed to companies," Woner said.

Luck has little to do with it. Energy companies are racing to exploit America's vast shale gas and oil fields, the increasing discoveries of which has upended markets and sparked the biggest drilling boom in generations.

While Wall Street slashes the kind of banking and trading positions that were once the most coveted for top graduates, energy firms can't hire fast enough for the technical jobs that have been all but overlooked for a generation.

The shale boom has run into many obstacles: environmental concerns from earthquakes to water safety, a lack of needed materials, and logistical bottlenecks.

But the shortage of specialty engineers may prove one of the most vexing. Poaching is rife and supplies are short, putting a premium on industry veterans who know how to get the most value out of wells that can cost tens of millions of dollars to drill.   Continued...