Career Definition of a Refinery Engineer
Refinery engineers work in the petroleum industry, and while they perform a number of important tasks, their main duty is to plan and oversee the process of transforming oil and natural gas extracted from the ground into products for consumers. They may hold a number of different roles, depending on their educational background, the needs of the job site, and their level of experience or seniority. Many refinery engineers begin their careers as process engineers, which involves making sure all raw materials meet the specifications of the refinery plant, providing product analysis reports, and figuring out ways to increase a refinery's production. Other refinery engineers may hold positions that involve more planning and management, in which case they would need to be able to manage staff, coordinate plans, and set and meet goals.
There are also positions available as refinery safety engineers, which involves making sure that refineries are operating under proper employee and public safety guidelines. This entails confirming that machines are functioning properly to minimize accidents and ensuring that the various chemicals produced during the refining process are not posing a danger to public health.
Regardless of their specific duties, refinery engineers must be very strong in the areas of critical and analytical thinking, as well as creative problem-solving, as they are almost sure to encounter a variety of challenges on a regular basis. Refinery engineers generally fall under one of two engineering disciplines - chemical and petroleum engineering.
|Educational Requirements||Bachelor's degree|
|Job Skills||Mathematical skills, problem-solving skills, analytical skills, creativity, out-of-the-box thinking|
|Median Salary (2019)*||$73,061 (for all process engineers, 2020)**
$137,720 (for all petroleum engineers)
$108,770 (for all chemical engineers)
|Job Outlook (2018-2028)*|| 3% (for all petroleum engineers)
6% (for all chemical engineers)
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Payscale.com
To become a refinery engineer, you will need to obtain a bachelor's degree in a relevant undergraduate field. Possible degree options that would prepare you for this field include a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering, chemical engineering, or mechanical engineering. Regardless of the specific program, you should make sure you take a high number of courses in subjects like advanced mathematics, biology, chemistry, engineering principles, and thermodynamics. Professional licensure for entry-level petroleum and chemical engineering positions is not generally required, though it can be helpful in advancing your career.
To be successful as a refinery engineer, you will need to have a very advanced understanding of mathematical concepts, as you will use math to solve complex engineering problems. Refinery engineers may encounter a number of obstacles and challenges while on job sites, and it is their responsibility to exercise their creative problem-solving skills and analytical thinking abilities to arrive at the most appropriate and efficient solution. Depending on your work environment, you may also be responsible for managing other employees and communicating effectively.
Career and Salary Outlook
As discussed, refinery engineers can work as process engineers or refinery safety engineers, though they are still working within the fields of petroleum and chemical engineering. According to Payscale.com, process engineers made a median salary of $73,061 in 2020. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median salary for all types of petroleum engineers as of 2019 was $137,720, with an expected job growth of 3% from 2018 to 2028. As demand and the price of oil fluctuates, the need for refinery engineers will also likely fluctuate, as higher demand and prices usually indicate a greater need for more petroleum engineers.
The demand for alternative fuels was also expected to drive demand for chemical engineers working in the petroleum industry. A 6% job growth was expected for these professionals overall, according to the BLS. Chemical engineers earned a median salary of $108,770 as of May 2019.
Individuals interested in a career as a refinery engineer may also want to consider some related career paths, like the ones listed below.