Department of Chemical Engineering


Starting from Department Day, 2014, the department is starting a blog page so as provide an opportunity to the Department community to share their thoughts as well as providing a platform for other Chemical Engineers to share their thoughts.

Our first blog is from Shailendra Kumar (M Tech, IIT Mumbai) who has 10 years of experience in the Upstream Petroleum Industry as a Chemical Engineer and shares some of his insight into the industry below.

Petroleum Industry and Chemical Engineering

Dear readers, before introducing you to the interesting world of petroleum industry, I would like to introduce myself. I started my career around 10 years before with one of the integrated national oil and gas organization in India as production engineer at Mumbai offshore, and currently I am working as a production technologist under petroleum engineering department with another integrated national oil and gas organization outside of India. By educational training, I am a chemical engineer. When I started my career, my understanding of petroleum industry was limited to petroleum refinery and petrochemical plants. When I look back today, I realize that I was only aware of one part of the petroleum industry.

You might be wondering why am I writing all this? Of course there is a reason for that. One day during my casual chat with my old time buddy, who is currently an academician in chemical engineer department with one of the prestigious Indian institute, asked me to summarize the opportunities for a chemical engineer in upstream petroleum industry (my apologies for introducing the term ‘Upstream’ before introducing you to the petroleum industry). So let me introduce you to the petroleum industry in general and later I will explain how a chemical engineer can contribute to this industry.

The petroleum industry involves global processes of explorationextractionrefining, transportation (often by oil tankers and pipelines), and marketing petroleum products. The industry can be divided into two major components: upstream and downstream. The upstream takes care of the exploration and production of hydrocarbon, i.e. crude oil and gas, whereas downstream industry refines the produced hydrocarbon into usable products such as naphtha, kerosene, aviation turbine fuel, gasoline, diesel & LPG and markets these refined products. The integrated oil and gas organizations are involved in both components of the petroleum industry. Products of downstream sounds familiar, right. Being a chemical engineer, we have close acquaintance with the downstream component of the industry. Let us explore rather less known territory of upstream petroleum industry, and also where can we as a Chemical Engineer fit in and contribute?

Within upstream, processes and departments are often separated into subsurface and surface facilities. Generally, most chemical engineers in upstream are found in the surface facility side of business, managing projects related to tanks, pumps, pipelines and separators. Now question comes, what about subsurface? Can we also work in subsurface side of business? My answer is yes, definitely. I have already mentioned in the starting that I am working in petroleum engineering department, which is a core subsurface department.

Let me further elaborate on few important roles of subsurface in upstream business, where we, Chemical engineers, effectively apply our knowledge gained during study of different courses of chemical engineering, and make a fruitful career.

1.    Reservoir engineering: A reservoir is essentially a large porous media underground filled with reservoir fluids – oil, gas and water. In order to recover oil or gas from a reservoir, chemical engineering fundamentals such as fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and heat & mass transfer must be understood and applied.

2.    Production engineering/ technology: Once we identify the prospective reservoir, the second and most important work is to produce the hydrocarbon up to the surface to monetize it. The production engineers are responsible for designing the optimum completion of the well and producing it to the maximum limit safely and economically. Here again, the knowledge of fluid flow through conduit (Fluid mechanics), PVT (Thermodynamics) and heat transfer is very important. The work of production engineers starts from exploration and lasts till the abandonment of the field.

3.    Process/Facility engineering: As mentioned earlier, many chemical engineers can be found in this section of upstream petroleum industry. They are involved in separation of the produced fluid into oil, gas and water, involved in other important processes of upstream operations, i.e. gas dehydration, produced and/or injection water. They get involved in concept selection of the facility design and keep involved during the operating phase of the field.

Petroleum engineering is not an exact science. Precise reservoir boundaries are often unknown, reservoir fluid samples to analyze PVT are few, recovery mechanisms are sometimes unclear, and original and current oil and/or gas in place is determined probabilistically. The fact is, it wouldn’t be economical to collect all of the data to make it an exact science. Without having all of the data, oil companies still have been successful in recovering resources so far. However, we’ve picked the low hanging fruit when it comes to oil and gas resources and are moving toward environments with increased complexity – heavy oil, challenging shale plays, tight gas, deep-water exploration, etc. It’s often said that the best place to find oil is within currently or previously producing reservoirs.

As we go back in and try to capture the residual oil, chemical engineering concepts will be critical in designing processes to recover these resources. Many oil or gas recovery mechanisms are well understood, such as water floods or gas cap expansion. Fortunately for our profession, there are areas, such as steam and polymer floods, that still need the keen eyes of engineers to model and optimize.

As we attempt to tackle the current global energy challenges, oil and gas will continue to be a key factor in the equation. While the focus of many chemical engineering graduates is in alternative energy solutions, there are still plenty of opportunities for a chemical engineer to make an impact in the world of upstream oil and gas. There are many organizations involved in industry, and you can aspire to join any one of them. Below, I am tabulating few of the NOCs (National Oil Company) and IOCs (International Oil Company) along with their websites for future information on career opportunities.





ONGC, India

OIL, India

Cairn, India

Royal Dutch Shell

Exxon Mobil


Saudi Aramco


My main aim of this article is to present an appetizer for chemical engineers out there. This is only a flavor of petroleum industry, mainly upstream part. What can a chemical engineer do for the future energy (mainly Oil & gas sector) security for their own country and the world as a whole, as well as what can this industry offer them as a career opportunity.

Signing off with the hope to see many of you working with this industry and meet some of you somewhere in this small world.

Shailendra Kumar