The upstream petroleum industry finds and gets crude oil and natural gas out of the ground – both on and offshore. It includes all the activity that happens in the field, such as shooting seismic, drilling wells, pumping crude oil, trucking supplies, mining crude oil sands and more. It also includes the planning, preparation and execution of field activities, including reclamation. This includes things such as environmental studies, public consultation and engineering planning. 
There are hundreds of careers in the upstream petroleum industry – employed in the exploration & production, oil sands, offshore and petroleum services sectors across Canada. Visit Career Explorer, our career planning tool to find your career!

Oil Sands       Offshore       Petroleum Services

Oil + Gas Exploration & Production 

Crude oil and natural gas are found in sedimentary rocks formed over millions of years by the accumulation in sedimentary basins of sand, silt and the remains of plants and animals. Canada has several distinct regions of sedimentary rock and every province and territory includes at least a portion of these sedimentary basins. While the most productive area is the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, these basins are found on and offshore and require different procedures to bring these hydrocarbons to production. 

The exploration and production (E+P) sector of the industry identifies the underground rock formations that may contain hydrocarbons and negotiates with the owners of the surface and mineral rights to get access to the land for drilling. E+P companies contract drilling and service companies
 to drill wells and bring discovered oil and natural gas to the surface, economically, safely and in line with environmental regulations. E+P companies in Canada have interests onshore or offshore or both.
Sophisticated new technologies have been developed in recent years to make the production of crude oil and natural gas from hard-to-reach reserves much more viable. The widespread use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has unlocked tight crude oil and natural gas from shale and tight reservoirs. 

E+P companies employ thousands of workers, from land negotiators to geologists, technologists to administrative assistants, accountants to engineers, safety managers to environmental specialists. Check out 
Career Explorer, our career planning tool, to find a career that suits you!

Oil Sands 

Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen (heavy oil). Alberta’s oil sands region is home to an estimated 173 billion barrels of crude oil, or about 97% of Canada's total crude oil reserves. The oil sands are found in the Athabasca, Peace River and Cold Lake regions - covering nearly 140,200 square kilometres. The oil sands are too heavy or thick to flow or be pumped without being diluted or heated. At room temperature they act much like cold molasses.


Shallow oil sand deposits (up to 75 metres deep) make up about 20% of the reserves. They are accessed via open pit mining. As a result, many heavy equipment operators are needed to operate the shovels that collect the oil sands and drive the enormous oil sands trucks from the mine site to the processing facility.
Close to 80% of oil sands reserves are located too far below the surface for mining. In this case, oil is produced in situ (Latin meaning “in place”). Wells are drilled using specialized extraction techniques.
Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) uses steam to liquefy the bitumen that is then pumped to the surface. Directional drilling allows operations to drill more than 20 wells from a single location, further reducing the surface disturbance. 
Explore the many careers available in the oil sands through the Career Explorer, our career planning tool.


Canada's offshore petroleum industry, mainly found in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, operates in one of the world's harshest environments, challenged by ice, wind and waves. Offshore exploration and production occurs when crude oil or natural gas fields exist under the sea, and includes all related operations and activities. Offshore projects are complex, requiring many specialized vessels to support operations at sea. These include large crude oil shuttle tankers, floating drilling/production platforms, production storage and offloading vessels, tugboats, drill ships, fireboats and supply vessels and subsea facilities.

Offshore wells can reach thousands of metres below the seafloor. People who work in the offshore industry need all the technical skills used onshore, plus the stamina, balance and enthusiasm needed to succeed in such a unique working environment. The offshore sector includes jobs such as Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, Cadet and Offshore Marine Specialist and is supported by many onshore positions, including those in the areas of engineering, environment, health and safety, finance, procurement and administration. Check out the Career Explorer, our career planning tool, to find a role that suits you.
For lots more offshore information, visit:

Newfoundland & Labrador Oil & Gas Industries Association (NOIA)

Petroleum Services 

Oil and gas service companies provide support services and products to the upstream petroleum industry during all phases of exploration and production, including drilling, testing, producing, maintaining and reclaiming oil and natural gas wells. Many of the jobs in the service sector are in the field and use highly advanced technology.

Check out the 
Career Explorer, our career planning tool, to find one that’s right for you. The service sector is also the largest sector in the oil and gas industry in terms of employment, employing thousands of workers in areas such as:
  • Cementing and stimulation services
  • Drilling and completion tools and services
  • Drilling fluids and chemical suppliers
  • Energy environmental services
  • Equipment and processing manufacturers
  • Pipe and drill bit manufacturers
  • Pipe coating and inspection
  • Pipeline and crude oilfield construction
  • Production testing
  • Safety services
  • Snubbing services
  • Specialized trucking services
  • Supply and rental stores
  • Various supplier/service fabricators, coring, and blowout preventers (BOPs)
  • Wellsite consultants
  • Wireline and perforating services