Petroleum technology programs prepare people to help engineers and others who extract and refine gas and oil. Students learn to map, analyze sites, and test samples. They also learn to use tools and monitor safety and environmental concerns.
When you think of an oil well, you may have a mental picture of a gusher spewing crude oil into the air. But the truth is that only a small fraction of the oil and gas in a reservoir comes out under its own power. Most needs to be coaxed out of the ground, and new technologies are constantly being developed to squeeze just a little more production from a well. Small wonder that this industry is the only one where you'll find the job title Vice President of Exploitation.
As a petroleum technician, you may work at a well site with some of the extractive equipment. For example, you may maintain equipment that boils water and injects superheated steam into a well to make thick oil flow freely. You may monitor the instruments on a drill assembly as it bores deep into layers of rock. You may run periodic chemical tests on oil as it comes from the ground. You may collect and process data from a seismic test that indicates the potential of a new site for producing oil.
Crude oil is a complex mix of chemicals. Refining it is a complex task requiring many technicians. So you may find work in a petroleum processing plant. You may monitor the process that uses catalysts to crack long molecules into shorter ones. Or you may operate equipment that puts petroleum derivatives under heat and pressure to force short molecules together. As gasoline is produced, you may test it for a consistent octane rating.
Preparing for this work typically requires two years of full-time study beyond high school. This earns you an associate degree. About fifteen colleges offer such a program in petroleum technology, and a few others offer a shorter certification program. Petroleum technology programs tend not to include as much basic science as you would learn in a two-year engineering technology program. Instead, the focus is very much on the specific technology of the oil industry. You study the equipment and methods the industry uses. You also learn the laws and safety procedures that govern work in this field.