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Typical Day

Petros (it's Greek) is a petrochemical, or petroleum, engineer. He heads into work and begins by meeting at 8am with a geologist to go over the maps of the reservoir into which they will be drilling for oil, and to start devising the optimal recovery scheme, as well as determine which equipment will be needed. (You can count out plastic shovels and bendy straws.)

After the meeting, Petros goes to his office and starts drawing up computer models that display what extraction techniques will be employed on this particular job. Yeah, okay, he also squeezes in about a half hour of solitaire—so sue him. Once they are ready to begin extracting, he will also be using a highly advanced computer that will perform the automation of the drilling operations. So yeah, it'[s not just some guy out there in the oilfield fitting drill bits into a Black & Decker.

He takes lunch at noon and then meets up with the other members of his own team at 1pm; they make notes about the proposed drilling location and jot down potential obstacles that may need to be removed or worked around before drilling can begin. That row of tires and series of wooden hurdles may prove to be especially tricky to navigate.

An obstacle course for giants.

Once they’re done, Petros goes to the lab, where he is performing a series of experiments on a small sample of oil from the location in question. To maximize their efforts, he must determine such things as how best to recover hydrocarbons from the oil shale, as well as how they can recover the oil that may be left underground after the automated machines have done their stuff (steam injection and underground combustion are popular methods). Despite the advanced technology, only about 25% of the available oil can be recovered in the first go-around, so additional action obviously needs to be taken to ensure there aren’t gobs of wasted oil left behind. It's like when you finish a cup of ice cream. You don’t toss the cup before taking one last, concentrated swipe around the bottom with your spoon, then sending your tongue in for detail duty, do you?

To better understand the substance they will be dealing with, Petros runs tests on the oil sample by creating and purifying polymer solutions, then running experiments and monitoring the results. He tries observing one sample on a slide, but the microchip microscope seems to be acting up, and he has to do some impromptu troubleshooting (without searing his retinas with the attached high-powered laser). Once he gets it working, he carefully records the data and makes detailed notes about every reaction. Later, he will clean up these notes and put them into the form of a more intelligible progress report that he can present to his superior.

Finally, Petros heads back to his office where he responds to some emails and returns some phone calls, and at 4:30 he's done for the day. He looks back on his day and is proud of how much he got done, and how efficiently he went about performing all of his duties. Yes…he is a well-oiled machine all right.