Careers in Oil Refining

by Aurelio Locsin

The process of oil refining transforms fossil fuels into electrical power for homes and businesses and into fuel for cars, trucks and other vehicles. Careers in this industry include geoscientists, engineers, oil workers and refinery operators.


Geoscientists study the earth and the way it changes over time to discover the best places to drill for oil, often working with scientists, technicians and engineers. They plan their activities from offices; travel to outdoor locations to collect samples; and conduct experiments in laboratories. For entry-level positions, the job requires at least a bachelor’s degree. High-level research positions demand a Ph.D. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for the profession to increase by 21 percent by 2020 because of the growing need for energy and responsible land development. As of 2011, geoscientists earned an average of $139,390 per year.


Petroleum engineers create and modify processes and equipment for extracting oil efficiently and profitably. Using information supplied by geoscientists, petroleum engineers plan how to drill in oil fields and how to force oil out through the injection of water and chemicals. They also look for ways to reduce waste in an effort to recover more usable product. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum education required for a petroleum engineer, although many engineers also have master’s degrees. Those who offering services directly to the public may need a license. Jobs are predicted to increase by 17 percent by 2020 because of rising oil prices. Petroleum engineers earn a mean annual salary of $150,890.

Oil Workers

Oil workers implement the plans developed by petroleum engineers and geoscientists. There are various kinds of oil workers: derrick operators inspect and manage oil derricks; drillers maintain and operate oil drills; service unit operators operate circulation pumps and other derrick equipment; and roustabouts clean equipment and perform miscellaneous tasks. These positions generally do not require a formal education because workers are trained on the job. Applicants must be physically fit, have good manual dexterity and be at least 18. Jobs are expected to increase by 8 percent by 2020 due to increases in oil production prompted by higher prices. Mean annual salaries are $47,120 for derrick operators, $58,540 for drill operator, $44,670 for service unit operators, and $34,680 for roustabouts.


Refinery operators manage the equipment used to process oil into petroleum and other useful fuels. They operate machines and open valves, read gauges to monitor processes and communicate with other workers and managers on how refineries are running. These positions usually require at least a high-school diploma. According to ONET Online, jobs are expected to decline by 10 percent by 2020. Refinery operators average $58,390 per year.

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