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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 $80,155.00
  • Avg. Wage $38.03
  • Minimum Education 1 year post-secondary
  • Outlook below avg
  • Employed 6,400
  • In Demand Medium
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) 
  • 2016 NOC: Central control and process operators, petroleum, gas and chemical processing (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 Mar 31, 2019

Oil or oil sands (bitumen) that comes directly out of the ground must go through several processes 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. It must be treated to the point that it can be used by a refinery.

At refineries, it goes through several more distillation processes. Processes, such as cracking, blending, and reforming, separate the refined oil into usable products. These include 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 are often different categories of process operators. Different refineries and upgraders have various combinations of categories.

Operators may be known by the process they are involved in, such as treater, blender, bitumen extractor, or upgrader operator. Or they may be known by the unit they work in, such as catalytic cracking unit operator or pumping unit operator. Their duties depend on the unit they work in, the area of the unit, the refinery’s level of automation, and the company they work for.

In general, refinery / upgrader process operators:

  • Conduct ongoing routine checks of equipment and processes
  • Prepare equipment and ensure it 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 / upgrader process operators are control room operators. When working in the control room, operators:

  • Monitor process indicators
  • Ensure safety and environmental regulations are followed
  • Monitor alarms that 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 highly automated refineries and upgraders, they use distributed control systems.

Working Conditions
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Refineries and upgraders operate 24 hours a day, year-round. Refinery and upgrader operators most often work 8- or 12-hour shifts. Process operators spend about half of their time working in the control room. They spend the other half outdoors.

Operators conduct routine checks at all hours regardless of weather conditions. They lift heavy items. 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 Mar 31, 2019

Refinery / upgrader process operators need:

  • Mental alertness and quick thinking
  • Agility and physical strength to lift 25 kilograms to shoulder height
  • Comfort with heights and small confined spaces (with and without self-contained breathing apparatus)
  • Problem-solving and communication skills
  • The ability to work with others in a team environment

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

Educational Requirements
Updated Mar 31, 2019

The minimum education requirement for refinery / upgrader process operators is a high school diploma, plus training in power engineering or process operations. Employers most often prefer applicants to have 3rd or 2nd Class power engineering certification. For some positions, employers prefer applicants with a 2-year diploma in chemical or power engineering technology. Course work or practical experience with machines or electrical equipment is an asset.

Prospective employers may require employees to obtain certificates in:

  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)
  • Petroleum safety training
  • Hydrogen sulfide awareness
  • Transportation of dangerous goods
  • Confined space entry
  • First aid

Before enrolling in an education program, prospective 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.

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

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 Mar 31, 2019

There is currently no provincial legislation regulating this occupation in Alberta.

Employment & Advancement
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Newly hired refinery / upgrader process operators usually take in-house training courses. They learn on the job by working with other operators.

Experienced 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 (pdf) 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.

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

In Alberta, the 9232: Petroleum, gas and chemical process operators occupational group is expected to have a below-average annual growth of 1.3% from 2019 to 2023. In addition to job openings created by employment turnover, 78 new positions are forecasted to be created within this occupational group each year.

Wage & Salary
Updated Mar 31, 2019

In general, salaries for refinery / upgrader operators are at the lower end of the range shown 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 $16.50 $53.81 $32.22 $30.00
Overall $17.00 $56.59 $38.03 $34.66
Top $17.00 $66.60 $44.27 $41.59

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 Mar 31, 2019

Careers in Oil and Gas (COG) website, Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI) Division of Energy Safety Canada:

Get information and referrals about career, education, and employment options from Alberta Supports.

Updated Mar 31, 2019. 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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