What Does a Subsurface Engineer Do?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2019
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A subsurface engineer is a type of petroleum engineering professional who specializes in the design, building, and management of oil and gas wells. Subsurface engineers must be well-versed in the newest and most effective drilling technology, in order to advise clients on the best possible design for a well. A subsurface engineer also needs to have excellent communication skills, since he or she often works with a large team of technicians and clients.

In the design of an oil or gas well, it is up to a subsurface engineer to plan the well for maximum efficiency. This can include determining the best method for drilling, as well as selecting the right tools and equipment for the job. In the design, the engineer must account for all potential hazards that could affect the flow of the well or the safety of workers. Since the technology of well-drilling is an ever-evolving field, engineers must take care to stay on top of new equipment choices and upgrades in order to ensure the best design for their clients. In addition, engineers must also be able to perform a cost-benefit analysis and present a client with plans that match the available budget.


In the building process, a subsurface engineer may be needed to run a variety of tests on the well. Testing the well as it is being built allows the engineer to discover any problems or miscalculations early in the process, and adjust the well completion plan as needed. Tests may include measurements of the well flow through the pipes, or individual equipment tests to ensure that each piece of the system is operating at maximum efficiency. If any problems are discovered, the engineer must then craft solutions that are cost-effective and put the well on track for completion.

With an existing or completed well, a subsurface engineer's job often involves proper management of the system. Engineers may be hired to analyze existing operations and determine if any improvements can be made that would improve safety or the well flow rate. They may also serve as independent consultants for the client, checking over in-house completion and management plans and suggesting changes that could improve efficiency.

In the course of the job, a subsurface engineer may have to travel around the world, and should be comfortable working in multicultural environments. Many are fluent in multiple languages, since their clients and teams may come from all over the world. Engineers may spend several months at a single site, seeing a project from inception to completion. Communication skills are critical in this job, since an engineer may work with a different team and new clients every few months.


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