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Despite the reputation for hard, dirty labor that comes with oil production, an oil refinery is a workplace where different kinds of employees work in specialized positions. Because of this, salary levels at a refinery vary widely by the type of work performed, with engineers earning high white-collar wages and laborers receiving blue-collar earnings.
Average Oil Industry Wages
Across all positions, responsibilities and qualifications, the average hourly wage for nonsupervisory workers in the oil extraction and refining industry is $27.28 per hour as of May 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. That average wage is the highest among the extraction industries and more than $9 per hour higher than the average hourly wage for all American workers.
Refinery Foreman Salary
In charge of supervising crews at the refinery and ensuring that production levels remain constant and reach targets, refinery foremen are the primary supervisors of refinery workers. Because of this, most are paid on a management level in the industry and receive average annual salaries that range from $62,889 to $127,938 as of January 2011, according to PayScale. The number of subordinates and the size of the refinery in which a foreman works may directly affect his salary.
Mechanical Engineer Salary
Because oil refining is a complicated process, various machines are required to pipe in crude oil, filter and process it, and prepare it to be shipped as refined oil. To ensure that the machines remain in working condition, refineries often employ mechanical engineers to stay on top of maintenance issues. The average salary for an oil refinery’s mechanical engineer is $85,000 annually as of January 2011, according to Indeed.com.
Refinery Operator Salary
Once crude oil reaches a refinery, it must be processed using the plant’s systems, and refinery operators are in charge of seeing that process through, operating and monitoring the mechanical process, as well as providing manual labor as necessary. Refinery operators earn average hourly wages that range from $22.21 to $32.55 per hour as of January 2011, according to PayScale. Workers must receive hands-on experience to earn those wages, however — first-year salaries range from $16.72 to $25.25. Veterans with more than 10 years in a refinery earn well above the average wage, with hourly wages between $31.15 and $35.30.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.