From chemical engineer to “mayor” of the Phillips 66 refinery

In this thriving industry, more women are wearing hard hats alongside their male peers. A perpetual need for skilled workers in the fuels and petrochemical industries long ago nixed the notion that these jobs are traditionally for men. But even today, as men and women work side by side to produce the energy and products that power our world, many of our nation’s women might not fully realize these high-paying careers are awaiting them.

 One way to spread the word? Share their stories. As part of an ongoing series, join us for a look at some of the women working in today’s fuels and petrochemical plants.

Meet the Mayor.

Now chances are, you’ve never heard of Jolie Rhinehart’s city — because her “city” — is the Phillips 66 Refinery in Ferndale, Washington.

But in its complexity and scale, a refinery struck us as being like a little city — so we figured that being the refinery manager at Ferndale makes Jolie a mayor, of sorts.

And there’s a lot going on in her town:  buildings and roads, a train station, a harbor – in all, about 400 people working there, involved in everything from security and maintenance, to technical operations, procurement, and budgeting.  They even have a wildlife population (more on that later).

They’re busy too.  Every day (and it IS every day, unless they’ve got some work to do on the equipment) — in comes about 105,000 barrels of oil.  And every day they turn that into about 54,000 barrels of gasoline, and another 51,000 barrels of other fuels (mostly various blends of diesel, for trucks and buses, ships and trains).

“I grew up in an old industrial town (Reading, Pennsylvania), in a family of people who worked hard, many in manufacturing. That was important and honorable work. When I graduated from college, and it was my time to go to work — that’s the work I wanted to do.  In fact, I WANTED to work in an oil refinery.

“One of my college professors had told me that in the oil business, ‘the chemical engineer is king’ (I guess he should have said ‘queen’) — and since I was a chemical engineer, this would be a business where if I worked hard, I could do anything.  And that’s been my experience.”

Early in her career, Jolie was in a job where she “made the transportation fuel recipes.”  Because not only is gasoline made from something else (oil), it’s a blend of things itself — and those blends, are the “recipes.”  There is software to do that too — but she always beat the software (and she says, that’s just one example of where technology can be helpful in the industry, but it won’t ever replace people).

That was one of her favorite jobs, and she’s had a number of them over the years — eventually leading her into management, and to her job today, as “Mayor”.  So if a young woman (or a young girl’s parents) were to ask her (and they do) about the fuels and petrochemical industries as a place to work — Jolie’s answer is her own story.  In fact, she goes out and talks to lots of people about the industry — from her niece’s Girl Scout troop to students at Washington State:  this is what engineers do, this is why engineers are important and if you are smart and capable and hardworking — young women will find, as she did, that they can do whatever they want in the industry.

But the image that a refinery is no place for a woman — that’s not the only stereotype she is quick to refute.

“People ask me sometimes:  how can I say I love the outdoors, — and work in a refinery?  And I tell them – there is no one who has a more POSITIVE impact on the environment than we do!  Each year, our company has lowered our emissions from the year before.  And this refinery, we are an Energy Star refinery — which means, our refinery operates in the top quartile nationwide in energy conservation, efficiency, and greenhouse gas emissions as certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Our refinery is located in a beautiful part of the world including woods, shoreline, and wetlands. We have lots of wildlife living on our property including deer, bald eagles, and Osprey. Operating cleanly and safely to preserve our beautiful area– for our employees, our neighbors, and our eagles too — that’s a responsibility I take VERY seriously.”

Now, we did say Jolie told us that in this industry, she’s found that she can do anything.  But we don’t want to leave you with the impression that it’s also true for everything she does outside the industry.  So we leave you with this cautionary note:  For many years, she and her dad took tap dancing classes together.  Jolie says that he — danced like Fred Astaire.  Unfortunately, she — danced like a refinery manager.

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