Students Are Turning Their Backs On Careers In Oil Engineering

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Nick Pope Contributor
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The stock of U.S. college students entering petroleum engineering programs has diminished to its lowest level in more than a decade, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Students are enrolling in the relevant engineering programs at the lowest rate since about 2007, despite ample job openings, rising salaries and high profits for major oil companies, according to the WSJ. The apparent decline in students’ interest is partially attributable to student concerns about the optics of working for firms they view as responsible for driving climate change and worries that the green transition may threaten long-term job security.

The share of students enrolling in petroleum engineering programs fell by approximately 50%, even as Brent crude oil prices almost doubled between 2016 and 2021, according to the WSJ. The trend of declining interest bucks a decades-long tendency of student enrollment in relevant engineering programs loosely following crude oil prices. (RELATED: ‘Unrealistic And Not Supported’: Major Automakers Slam Biden’s ‘Extreme’ EV Plan)

In response to decreasing student participation, several major oil companies are rolling out or bolstering well-endowed fellowships and internship programs to expose prospective students to the energy industry, according to the WSJ.

Some schools, such as the University of Texas, are rebranding their energy engineering programs by removing the word “petroleum” or its derivatives in order to make programs more appealing to students, according to the WSJ. Others have dropped their petroleum engineering curriculum altogether, or modified the programs in order to boost appeal to students.

The apparent lack of student interest in petroleum engineering presents yet another problem for the fossil fuel industry in the U.S., which faces a host of new regulatory challenges from the Biden administration and its policy aim to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. power sector by 2035. Current enrollment levels are about as low as they were just before the shale boom and fracking revolution touched off in the late 2000s, according to the WSJ.

The decline in interest in petroleum engineering across the country could be concerning even for those who view green technology favorably, as the energy technologies of the future will still require the innovative work of energy-focused engineers, according to the WSJ.

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