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Refinery and Upgrader Process Operator

Refinery and upgrader process operators are responsible for the day to day operations of oil refineries and upgraders.

  • Avg. Salary $115,418.00
  • Avg. Wage $53.85
  • Minimum Education 1 year post-secondary
  • Outlook below avg
  • Employed 7,500
  • In Demand High
Also Known As

Bitumen Extraction Plant Operator, Bitumen Upgrading Plant Operator, Oil Refinery Process Operator, Upgrader Process Operator

NOC Codes

In Canada, the federal government groups and organizes occupations based on a National Occupational Classification (NOC) system. This alis occupation may not reflect the entire NOC group it is part of. Data for the NOC group can apply across multiple occupations.

The NOC system is updated every 5 years to reflect changes in the labour market. Government forms and labour market data may group and refer to an occupation differently, depending on the system used. Here is how this occupation has been classified over time:

  • 2006 NOC: Petroleum, Gas and Chemical Process Operators (9232) 
  • 2006 NOC-S: Petroleum, Gas and Chemical Process Operators (J112) 
  • 2011 NOC: Petroleum, gas and chemical process operators (9232) 
Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years

Average Wage
  • Certification Not Regulated
  • Strength Required Lift up to 20 kg
Interest Codes
The Refinery and Upgrader Process Operator is part of the following larger National Occupational Classification (NOC).
Petroleum, Gas and Chemical Process Operators

Interest in controlling process start-up, shut-down and troubleshooting; and in operating electronic or computerized control panels from a central control room; and in shutting down, isolating and preparing process units or production equipment for maintenance


Interest in analyzing information to develop operator procedures for normal operations, start-up and shut-down of units; and in participating in safety audits and programs, and in providing emergency response when required


Interest in speaking with team members and trainees to authorize or co-sign maintenance work orders; in ensuring adherence to safety and environmental regulations; may work in a team with shared supervisory responsibilities and participate in training other workers

Reading Interest Codes
A Quick Guide

The interest code helps you figure out if you’d like to work in a particular occupation. 
It’s based on the Canadian Work Preference Inventory (CWPI), which measures 5 occupational interests: Directive, Innovative, Methodical, Objective and Social.

Each set of 3 interest codes is listed in order of importance.

A code in capital letters means it’s a strong fit for the occupation.

A code in all lowercase letters means the fit is weaker.

Learn More

Updated Dec 16, 2016

Oil or oilsand (bitumen) that comes directly out of the ground must go through a number of processes in the field and at the refinery before it can be used to meet energy and raw material manufacturing needs. In the field, raw oil (or oilsand) is treated to prepare it for movement down major pipelines. At upgraders, it is treated through distillation, coking, fractionation, hydrotreating, amine sweetening or sulphur recovery processes to the point that it can be used by a refinery. At refineries, it goes through a number of additional distillation processes (for example, cracking, blending, reforming) which separates it into useable products such as gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, light and heavy fuel oils, jet fuel, greases, lubricating oil, waxes and asphalt.

Refinery and upgrader process operators' job titles and duties vary from one refinery or upgrader to another. There often are different categories of process operators and different refineries and upgraders have various combinations of categories. Operators may be known by the process in which they are involved (for example, treater, blender, bitumen extractor or upgrader operator) or by the unit in which they work (for example, catalytic cracking unit operator or pumping unit operator). Their duties depend on the unit in which they work, the area of the unit, the refinery's level of automation and the company for which they work. In general, however, refinery and upgrader process operators:

  • conduct ongoing routine equipment and process checks and tasks
  • prepare and ensure equipment is safe for maintenance work
  • respond to problems and emergency situations as they arise
  • record readings (manually or on a computer)
  • make adjustments on equipment and note possible problems
  • take samples of oil, gas or water
  • conduct basic chemical tests
  • ensure safe operations
  • perform general housekeeping duties such as wiping up oil spills and sweeping floors.

Some refinery and upgrader process operators are control room operators who co-ordinate shut-downs and major projects. When working in the control room, operators:

  • monitor process indicators
  • ensure safety and environmental regulations are being followed
  • monitor alarms which provide information about the operation of each unit in their section
  • make necessary changes and adjustments such as adjusting flows, temperatures, pressures or levels to ensure safe and efficient plant operation.

Control room operators work with special types of technical equipment. In refineries and upgraders that are highly automated, they use distributed control systems.

Working Conditions
Updated Dec 16, 2016

Since refineries and upgraders operate 24 hours a day, year round, refinery and upgrader operators usually work eight or 12 hour shifts. Process operators spend about half of their time working in the control room and the other half outdoors.

Routine checks are carried out at all hours regardless of weather conditions. Lifting items weighing up to 20 kilograms routinely is required. Where refinery or upgrader units are spread over a wide area, operators do a lot of walking.

  • Strength Required Lift up to 20 kg
Skills & Abilities
Updated Dec 16, 2016

Refinery and upgrader process operators need the following characteristics:

  • the ability to work changing shifts and remain alert
  • the ability to think and learn quickly
  • an interest in working with massive systems and complex machines
  • agility and the ability to lift 25 kilograms to shoulder height
  • the ability to work at heights and in small confined spaces (with and without a self-contained breathing apparatus)
  • problem solving and decision making skills
  • the ability to work with others in a team environment
  • the ability to communicate well and give clear directions in emergency situations.

They should enjoy controlling equipment, instruments and machinery, analyzing information to solve problems and working with others in a team.

Educational Requirements
Updated Dec 16, 2016

The minimum education requirement for refinery and upgrader process operators is a high school diploma, plus training in power engineering or process operations. For some positions, employers prefer to hire applicants who have a two year diploma in chemical or petroleum engineering technology. Course work or practical experience with machines or electrical equipment is an asset.

Prospective employers may require employees to obtain certificates such as:

  • Petroleum Safety Training (PST)
  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)
  • Hydrogen Sulfide Awareness (H2S)
  • Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG)
  • Confined Space Entry
  • First Aid.

Before enrolling in an education program, prospective process operators should contact potential employers to discuss hiring practices and preferences.

Required Education

The following schools offer programs and courses that meet this occupation’s educational requirements. Other eligible programs and courses may be available.

Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Related Education

The following schools offer programs or courses that are related to this occupation but are not required to enter the field.

Grande Prairie Regional College

Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Red Deer College

For a broad list of programs and courses that may be related to this occupation try searching using keywords.

Certification Requirements
Updated Dec 16, 2016

Certification is not required, as there is currently no legislation regulating this occupation.

Employment & Advancement
Updated Dec 16, 2016

New employees usually take in-house training courses and learn on the job by working with other operators.

Experienced process operators may advance to supervisory positions or move into related positions in:

  • pulp mills
  • water treatment plants
  • petrochemical plants
  • food and beverage plants
  • hospitals
  • fertilizer plants
  • power generation facilities.

Refinery and upgrader process operators are part of the larger 2011 National Occupational Classification 9232: Petroleum, gas and chemical process operators. In Alberta, 84% of people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

In Alberta, the J112: Petroleum, Gas and Chemical Process Operators occupational group is expected to have a below-average annual growth of 1% from 2016 to 2020. In addition to job openings created by employment turnover, 60 new positions are forecasted to be created within this occupational group each year.

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Wage & Salary
Updated Dec 16, 2016

Salary ranges for refinery/upgrader operators are generally at the lower end of the range displayed below.

Petroleum, gas and chemical process operators

Survey Methodology

Survey Analysis

Overall Wage Details
Average Wage
Average Salary
Hours Per Week

Hourly Wage
For full-time and part-time employees
  • Low
  • High
  • Average
  • Median
Wages* Low (5th percentile) High (95th percentile) Average Median
Starting $24.56 $66.54 $46.80 $41.35
Overall $28.00 $66.54 $53.85 $52.40
Top $30.00 $66.54 $55.75 $54.33

Swipe left and right to view all data. Scroll left and right to view all data.

* All wage estimates are hourly except where otherwise indicated. Wages and salaries do not include overtime hours, tips, benefits, profit shares, bonuses (unrelated to production) and other forms of compensation.

C: Lower Reliability
Data Reliability Code Definition

Lower Reliability, represents a CV of between 15.01% and 33.00% and/or if fewer than 20 survey observations and/or if survey observations represent less than 33% of all estimated employment for the occupation.

Industry Information

Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years


Recruiting Employers that Experienced Hiring Difficulties


Employers with Unfilled Vacancies of over 4 Months


Vacancy Rate

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Trades, Industrial and Related Training
Other Sources of Information
Updated Dec 16, 2016

Petroleum Human Resources (PHR), Careers in Oil and Gas (COG) website:

For more information on career planning, education and jobs call the Alberta Supports Contact Centre toll-free at 1-877-644-9992 or 780-644-9992 in Edmonton, or visit an Alberta Supports Centre near you.

Updated Mar 29, 2015. The information contained in this profile is current as of the dates shown. Salary, employment outlook, and educational program information may change without notice. It is advised that you confirm this information before making any career decisions.

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