Refinery Operator Job Description
Refinery operators work in plants or facilities where crude oil is treated and refined. They’re responsible for converting crude oil into various consumer-ready products – anything from transportation fuels to vegetable oils. The role of refinery operator is a physically demanding one, often requiring long shifts of 12 hours or more, strenuous labor, and the ability to work well under pressure. Typically, refinery operators report to facility managers or other superiors, and they must regularly coordinate with coworkers, delivery personnel, and other outside parties to ensure proper oil standards are met and maintained.
Refinery Operator Duties and Responsibilities
Specific tasks and duties for refinery operators vary slightly depending on the employer, facility, and nature of the finished product. However, there are several core responsibilities commonly associated with refinery operators, including:
Refine Crude Oil
Although many steps are involved, the ultimate responsibility of the refinery operator is to properly refine crude oil into a specific product. This product – whether it’s fuel, feedstocks, or any other petroleum-based commodity – must meet a certain set of standards the refinery operator is also responsible for. Meeting these standards requires operators work with or manage equipment used in the various refining processes, including hydrogenation, deodorizing, and bleaching.
Monitor Refining Processes
To ensure the quality of refined oil and an optimal rate of production, all refinement processes must be carefully observed and maintained. Refinery operators continually monitor and evaluate all refinement equipment, machinery, and the quality of oil to ensure standards and effective production, and to identify and forecast possible problems.
Coordinate with Workers
Refining oil is not a one-person job. It requires careful planning and coordination with multiple parties and pumphouses. To that end, a refinery operator must effectively communicate with other workers to ensure refinement tasks are carried out on time and in an effective manner.
Maintain Records and Log Sheets
Because of the highly complex nature of the refining process, it is absolutely critical that accurate data be recorded and maintained. Refinery operators must keep meticulous records of all operational data, including instrument readings, lab results, and shipping logs – to name a few.
Ship and Receive Oil
The oil refining process involves both shipping and receiving crude and finished product, otherwise known as load out processes. These processes involve careful planning and coordination to ensure oil is properly handled, shipped, received, and stored.
Refinery Operator Skills and Qualifications
Refinery operators possess a strong technical aptitude, an analytical mind, and the ability to work long hours alone or in a team setting. Many employers also prioritize candidates who have the following abilities:
- Oil refining experience – regardless of the finished product, refining oil traditionally involves many of the same processes, including bleaching, deodorizing, and hydrogenation. Operators who possess a strong understanding of these processes will be better prepared to work in a refinement facility
- Mechanical skills – refinery operators spend most of their day working with tools and equipment. They should be skilled using a long list of hand and power tools and should be comfortable working with all types of machinery
- Quality control – regularly monitoring and testing the quality of oil is an essential step in a refinery operator’s workflow
- Troubleshooting – because of the complex nature of the job and the equipment involved, refinery operators regularly face mechanical problems. To properly address these challenges, refinery operators need strong diagnostic and problem-solving skills
- Interpersonal skills – many tasks require coordination with additional parties, including managers, coworkers, and transport professionals. Refinery operators must communicate effectively with others in order to complete tasks in a timely and effective manner
Tools of the Trade
Regardless of the finished product or facility, refinery operators frequently use some or all of the following tools during their workday:
- Refinement equipment (pumping equipment, sampling equipment, processing machinery)
- Hand tools (wrenches, calipers, chisels, hammers, saws, pliers, knives, rulers, tape measures, tinner snips, sockets, screwdrivers)
- Communication tools (email programs, telephone, radio signal devices, written correspondence)
Refinery Operator Education and Training
Most employers require a high school diploma or GED for employment. In some instances, previous experience working with refining equipment or similar machinery can suffice in lieu of educational requirements. Depending on the exact nature and responsibilities of the position, refinery operators might receive some level of on-the-job training, including instruction on proper operating and safety procedures.
Refinery Operator Salary and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists refinery operators under the general category of petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers, and reports a median annual salary of $68,190, which is equivalent to an hourly rate of $32.78. These numbers are consistent with salaries offered for refinery operators on multiple job sites and career boards. Refinery operators in the 10th percentile earn close to $42,000 year ($20.20 per hour), while the highest-paid operators make nearly $98,000 ($46.94 per hour).
While the BLS does not provide specific outlook data for refinery operators, it does provide information for several occupations that fall under the same employment umbrella, such as petroleum technicians and refinery process engineers. On the whole, the BLS projects employment for these occupations will grow between 4 and 16 percent by 2026.
Interested in becoming a refinery operator? Here are some valuable resources to get you on your way:
Troubleshooting Process Operations – this in-depth resource provides useful troubleshooting tips and techniques to help improve your problem-solving skills. Author Norm Lieberman leverages his 45 years working in the petrochemical and refining industry to deliver over 700 pages of useful information, including detailed descriptions of common refinery problems, practical troubleshooting techniques, and tips for effectively interacting with other plan personnel
A Working Guide to Process Equipment – from authors and chemical engineers Elizabeth and Norman Lieberman, this comprehensive guide teaches you how to effectively diagnose, troubleshoot, and solve problems with refining equipment. Drawing from their combined 80-plus years of experience, the Liebermans cover a wide range of equipment and processes, using both real-world examples and illustrations to teach you practical troubleshooting strategies
Petroleum Refining in Nontechnical Language – William Leffler’s 270-page overview of refining topics provides a basic analysis of the refining industry. Using nontechnical language and easy-to-understand graphs and illustrations, Leffler covers key refining topics, including valuable information on crude oil and other raw materials