Getting oil and gas out of the ground
The upstream petroleum industry is about getting oil and gas out of the ground. It includes all the activity that happens in the field, such as shooting seismic, drilling wells, pumping oil, trucking supplies, and more. It also includes the planning and preparation for field activity, including environmental studies, public consultation and engineering plans.
Oil and gas are trapped in rocks underground and under water. Geologists study the earth, its rock formations and its history to find deposits of crude oil and natural gas. Geologists and Geophysicists use seismic data to help them understand the underground rock formations that may hold oil or gas.
Interested in working in geosciences? Check out your career options for Geoscience Professionals.
During a seismic survey, the crew lays out sensitive recording equipment called geophones on the ground. Then they make underground explosions or surface vibrations that create seismic waves. The seismic waves are reflected from the rock formations under the ground and recorded as seismic data. This data is processed with powerful computers and specialized software. The result is an image of underground structures and rock features that may contain crude oil or natural gas.
Most of the work in the seismic sector is done outdoors. Employees work in crews, usually moving from location to location.
Exploration and Production (E&P):
The exploration and production (E&P) sector of the industry identifies underground rock formations that may contain hydrocarbons, then negotiates with the owners of the local surface and mineral rights to get access to the land for drilling. E&P companies then usually contract drilling and service companies to drill wells and bring discovered oil and gas to the surface, economically, safely and in line with environmental regulations. E&P companies have interests both onshore and offshore.
E&P companies need a wide variety of employees, from land negotiators to geologists, technologists to administration assistants, accountants to engineers, safety managers to environmental specialists. Most of these positions are office-based.
The well is created by drilling a hole 5 to 36 inches (127.0 mm to 914.4 mm) diameter into the earth with a drilling rig which rotates a drill string with a bit attached. After the hole is drilled, sections of steel pipe (casing), slightly smaller in diameter than the borehole, are placed in the hole. Cement may be placed between the outside of the casing and the borehole. The casing provides structural integrity to the newly drilled wellbore in addition to isolating potentially dangerous high pressure zones from each other and from the surface.
With these zones safely isolated and the formation protected by the casing, the well can be drilled deeper (into potentially more-unstable and violent formations) with a smaller bit, and also cased with a smaller size casing. Modern wells often have 2–5 sets of subsequently smaller hole sizes drilled inside one another, each cemented with casing.
If you are interested in a career in drilling check out our drilling job family page.
Service, Supply and Manufacturing:
Service, supply and manufacturing companies provide support services and products to the upstream petroleum industry during all phases of exploration and production. Many of the jobs in the service sector are in the field.
Links field activity with consumers
The midstream industry links upstream activities with the consumers who are located downstream. The midstream industry gathers, stores and transports crude oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids and sulphur.
Where petroleum meets you – the consumer!
The downstream industry is where the petroleum meets you – the consumer. The downstream industry includes oil refineries, gas processing plants, petrochemical plants, gas stations and natural gas distribution companies.
The downstream sector provides the thousands of products we use in our everyday lives and there are about 3,000 products made from petroleum. From the moment your alarm wakes you up, you brush your teeth, slip on your runners and pump up the tires on your bike, you are using petroleum products. Here are just a few of the thousands of products you may use that are made from oil and gas:
- Gasoline, motor oil, lubricants, dashboards, windshield wipers, steering wheels, floor mats, asphalt, construction cones.
- Fuel for planes and ships.
- Natural gas for hot water tanks, clothes dryers and barbecues.
- Outdoor items such as garden tools, lawn furniture, artificial turf, paints, fertilizers, hoses.
- Household items including piano keys, Venetian blinds, rugs, plastic containers, candles, flooring, flashlights, lamps, cleansers, dusters, mops, foam pillows.
Leisure and Entertainment
- Sporting gear such as inline skates, skis, tents, sunglasses, helmets, runners.
- Electronics like cameras, digital music players, computers, TVs.
Apparel and Accessories
- Clothing like polar fleece, polyester, vinyl, shoes, boots, belts, badges, purses.
Medical and Personal Hygiene
- Personal items including toothpaste, toothbrushes, lip balm, lipstick, bubble gum.
- Medical items such as gloves, syringes, medicines, containers, equipment.
- And much more!