Monday, August 1, 2016

What kind of jobs are available for chemists at ethylene cracker plants?

ExxonMobil Chemical and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. are planning a multi-billion-dollar petrochemical complex on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The jointly owned project marks SABIC’s first major effort to take advantage of U.S. shale gas feedstock. 
SABIC already operates ethylene crackers and derivative plants alone and with partners in Saudi Arabia, Europe, and Asia. The proposed U.S. facility would include a 1.8 million metric-ton-per-year steam cracker—the world’s largest, the partners say—and downstream ethylene glycol and polyethylene plants. Sites in Louisiana and Texas are being considered...
This brings to mind a recent question from the inbox:
I’ve been looking online for what jobs are available for B.S. Chemists at cracker plants and what they pay and I can’t really find anything. 
I talked with someone who has familiarity with the oil and gas industry, and this was their speculation:
Depending on the company, I'd think they should be paying in the $35K (low) to about $50K(high) range, experience, location and largeness of the company dependent. ExxonMobile will probably pay more than Bob's Distillation Column, Inc. 
They may train [them] in operations or formulation in pilot plant operations... 
So, readers, your thoughts on where a B.S.-level chemist can work at a cracker plant? There's definitely room for them in the lab (they have testing labs, I presume), but there's also probably work for them in the plant (although it will probably be more of an engineering path.) 


  1. The difference between a chemist and a chemical engineer is close to the top of the list of stuff I wish someone told me when I was a high school senior / college freshman. I suspect an operation like this doesn't have much use for the former.

    The process chemists I've worked with came from a mix of both science and engineering backgrounds, so I could see someone with a BS in chemistry backdooring into a refinery-type operation after transitioning to process chemistry somewhere else, but I doubt a recent grad with a chemistry BS would have much of a chance.

  2. i work in the downstream part of the industry and from what i can tell, the actual cracker units will not employ many chemists. The polyolefins plants will probably be a better bet for a bachelor's level chemist. That said, its still going to be dominated by engineers and operators.

  3. A large-scale chemical plant will need surprisingly few chemists. Besides a typical analytical lab employment, a chemist at a commodity chemicals plant can run non-routine testing and evaluations. For example, evaluate process additives from different vendors - anti foam, anti fouling, inhibitor packages, analyze composition of waste streams to determine how to dispose of them properly, etc...

  4. anon electrochemistAugust 2, 2016 at 7:12 PM

    Worked as a BSc chemist for one of the larger ethylene producers/consumers in North America. Virtually no BSc jobs at the actual plant, just operators and engineers. Myself and a few other chemists had a lab in a city nearby for any nontrivial analytical and catalyst research work. Mostly GCMS trace analysis of feedstocks, and characterization of the resulting polyolefins.

    Starting salary was $55K CAD.