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Wednesday, January 31, 2001

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The Black (Gold) Market

No vehicle, house or industry can run without this treasure, which is often referred to as Black Gold or Liquid Gold! The petroleum industry has rich prospects, both in India and abroad...

NO vehicle, house or industry can run without it. We use it for fuelling our automobiles, ships, and planes, for powering our industries, for domestic heating and cooking, as feedstock for the petrochemical industry (in plastics, polymers, paints, medicines, soaps...), for smooth roads, and even for a smooth skin! Petroleum and its related products are well worth their weight in gold - Petrol, gasoline, LPG, diesel oil, kerosene, bunker oil, heavy engine oils, asphalt, pitch or bitumen, Vaseline (petroleum jelly), mineral oil, aviation turbine fuel, lubricants, compressed natural gas, naphtha - little wonder then, that this treasure is referred to as Black Gold or Liquid Gold!

Some form of petroleum has actually been used throughout history. The Egyptians used pitch to seal their mummies and coat their pyramids. The Persians used it to pave their roads and coat their buildings. The Indians used it to waterproof their reed boat and rafts.

The American Indians used petroleum as medicine. In fact, up to the 19th century, jars of petrol were being sold as a miracle tonic that claimed to be a cure-all for any ailment! Though its claims are somewhat modest in contrast to what they used to be, it is a fact that petrol (or rock oil as its called) is indispensable today.

The petroleum industry is one of the biggest industries in India. The oil industry is broadly segmented into upstream and downstream sectors. The exploration and production exploitation activities comprise the upstream sector, while refining, marketing and distribution activities come under the downstream sector.

Functions in the oil industry Exploration

It involves prospecting for oil and conducting tests to confirm the presence of oil and gas, providing technical assistance for 2D and 3D seismic data acquisition for hydrocarbon exploration. Petroleum geologists, geo-physicists and engineers use advanced state-of-the-art technology in this venture.


Once the exploration and prospecting teams have located potential oil-rich locales, oil wells are dug. Petroleum and civil engineers plan, design and supervise the completion of drilling wells- both off shore and on land, in diverse terrains right from mountainous regions to deserts to oceans!


Once oil is struck, the next phase is to regulate the oil flow. After the drilling team does its work, the production team (consisting of petroleum, chemical, mechanical and electrical engineers) sets up process systems by which the vast reservoirs of crude oil are managed, and put to optimum use- with minimum wastage. In addition to developing new fields, engineers also manage existing declining oil fields.


Crude oil is not of any use unless it is processed. Crude oil from various sources is refined to yield various distillates - keeping in view the demand for these products in the country. The latest technology, expertise and experienced personnel (consisting of Instrumentation, chemical, mechanical, electrical and civil engineers and technicians) are employed in this venture. In India, refining is a big industry. The challenge in this field in not only to maximize yield, but to do it in accordance with the stringent pollution control measures set by the Pollution Control Board.

Transportation and Distributorship

One of the reasons oil is in greater demand than coal is because of its ease of transportation. A vast distribution network ensures that essential petroleum products reach the customer at the right place, right time and more importantly-at the right price! Irrespective of the company they belong to, most retail outlets/distributors network together for this purpose.

Research & Development

R & D plays a crucial role in improving manufacturing practices, updating processes in the refining of crude oil so as to get optimum yield. Through R & D, refineries are able to alter the ratios of the different fractions based on crude oil characteristics to meet demand, and maximize profit. The IIP (Indian Institute of Petroleum) at Dehradun is a premier R& D Institute that does extensive research in this industry.

Hit pay dirt!

It's a big industry with rich prospects! Options are open to geologists, geo-physicists, and petroleum engineers (for upstream activities); and for chemical, mechanical, electrical and instrumentation and production engineers (for downstream activities). These engineers are in great demand and are employed by petroleum producing companies (working on an oil rig pays very well!), consulting engineering companies, well logging and testing companies, and in government undertaking such as ONGC, Indian Oil, Oil India, BP, HPCL to name a few, as well as in research and educational institutions.

With increased emphasis on protecting the environment, several environmental engineers are also being employed in this industry to solve problems related to land reclamation and water and air pollution. There are good career prospects for engineers in associated industries (like the petrochemical industry) as well. Opportunities are plenty around the world, especially in the Middle East.


The minimum qualifications for careers in the following are: Geology - a graduate or postgraduate degree in geology. Geo- physics - a five-year integrated course in Exploration Geophysics One can also do an M.Tech in geology and geophysics. Petroleum engineering - a BE or B.Tech in petroleum engineering. Production or industrial engineering-a BE in Production and Industrial engineering. Civil engineering - a BE/B.Tech or an ME/ M.Tech in civil engineering. Mechanical engineering - a BE or a ME degree in mechanical engineering. Instrumentation engineering - a BE or a B.Tech degree in Instrumentation. Chemical engineering - a BE or a ME in chemical engineering. Electrical engineering - a BE or a diploma in electrical engineering.

At the ME level one can even specialise in Control and Instrumentation.

Soft skills in a tough trade!

One needs an aptitude for managing men and handling machines, the ability to conceptualise forms, structures and operations, keep calm under pressure and handle crises.


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