What Does a Refinery Operator Do?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 February 2019
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A refinery operator is an employee who works in an oil refinery, which is a facility that changes crude oil into various usable products. The specific job functions of a refinery operator can vary depending on his or her specific job description, but in general, operators are responsible for monitoring, maintaining, and otherwise running various machinery used in the refinery process. The education requirements for this position are usually fairly minimal, though a high school education is usually required, as is on the job training. Certification processes may also be required in some areas of the world.

Many refineries will train each refinery operator to perform a single task, or possibly even several tasks. The process of refining crude oil is complex and requires a large staff of operators, as well as various machinery to ensure a usable final product. A refinery operator may, for example, be exclusively responsible for operating the desalter unit, which is a machine that rids the crude oil of natural salts before it enters the next stage of refining. This is an important step not only for the quality of the product, but also for the longevity of the machinery.


Some employees are exclusively responsible for the maintenance and repair of complex machinery. These refinery operator positions are sometimes called machinists or mechanics, though they may have other duties such as running particular machines. The training for such positions can be extensive, though much of it can be done on the job and does not require special schooling. For more complex machines, the machinist may need to attend special training seminars.

The refining process can produce a wastewater by-product that will need to be managed for the safety of workers, surrounding communities, and the environment. Some refinery operator positions take place exclusively within the wastewater treatment setting, and these workers will be responsible for containing the water, analyzing it, and treating it to separate toxic waste from the water. In some cases, the water can be reclaimed so it can be used for other purposes, though it will not be suitable for drinking water.

The refinery operator will need basic math skills as well as basic communications skills. Computer training is preferred as well, as some of the machines the operator will control will feature computer interfaces. Knowledge of basic science concepts is often preferred, though it is not usually necessary to be hired as an operator.


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