Petroleum-based products such as fuel, plastics and fertilizer are used in a range of industries, from transportation to agriculture. These products start as unrefined liquids that are derived from the Earth. Entry-level refinery operators utilize equipment that retrieves, processes and stores petroleum in a safe and timely manner.
Education for Refinery Operators
Most entry level refinery operators have a high school diploma or an associate's degree. Schools such as the University of West Florida offer courses that prepare candidates for this line of work, consisting of 400 hours of classes. Students learn about applied physics, basic math, safety and hazard communications. They also study the parts involved in refinery operation, such as industrial valves, centrifugal pumps, bearings, lubrication and heat exchangers. Aspiring operators study petroleum refining, distillation technology and related processes.
Monitoring and Communications
Entry-level refinery work requires ongoing communication with other team members to ensure the entire process runs smoothly. Refinery operators obtain information gauges, meters, instruments and other indicators. They then use two-way radios (or telephones) to relay this information to workers who open or close valves and work the pumps.
Entry-level refinery operators maintain the flow of petroleum from production sites. Operators follow test results, lab recommendations and specifications when setting up pumping systems, enabling them to adhere to schedule. These benchmarks guide the decisions of refinery operators in using equipment that stores, processes and ships petroleum products. They also meet processing requirements by using control panels to alter pressure, temperature and other pumping parameters, ensuring that the correct amount of petroleum enters the system.
Pay and Outlook
The starting salary for entry level refinery operators varies according to their location and employer, ranging from $13.00 to $20.00 per hour. With a few years experience, this rises to $18.00 to $35.00 per hour. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupation as a whole averages $29.20 per hour, resulting in an average annual pay of $60,730 as of May 2012. Demand for refinery operators is expected to remain strong for the foreseeable future, due to a critical shortage as experienced refinery operators near retirement.