Pipeline Operator: Job Description and Requirements

Sep 21, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a pipeline operator. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about education, job responsibilities and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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For those interested in a career in the oil industry, a job as a pipeline operator is an option worth considering. Though not typically required, most employers prefer candidates with a degree and some relevant experience in the field. Certain positions require additional certification.

Essential Information

Pipeline operators control the flow of oil, gas and other industrial materials within a power plant or refinery. Responsibilities include monitoring instruments and regulating pumps and other operational systems. A postsecondary education or training in mechanical systems or engineering is common.

Required Education On-the-job training, postsecondary education or training in mechanical, chemical, or electrical systems often preferred
Required Certification North American Energy Reliability Corporation certification required for positions directly affecting the power grid
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) -7% for gas plant operators, -2% for petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators and gaugers*
Average Salary (2018) $71,470 annually for gas plant operators, $70,630 for petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators and gaugers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for Pipeline Operators

Pipeline operators work within industrial settings, such as power plants, gas distribution facilities and oil refineries. They can also be known as pump operators, gaugers or gas operators. They regulate the flow of oil, gases and other materials from pipes into and out of storage tanks, monitor instruments and communicate with other operators and technicians.

Pipeline operators can work at a computer in an industrial control center, monitoring levels for temperature, pressure and other variables. They operate pumps and manifolds to initiate flow of liquids into refineries or electrical generators. In the case of natural gas, operators also control the use of compressors, scrubbers and refrigeration equipment to convert the material into liquid or gas, as necessary.

Operators also directly observe pipes, system tanks and other equipment for leaks or other damage and communicate with the operators in the control room to ensure safe operation within standards and regulations. In instances when operations approach limits, pipeline operators are responsible for taking appropriate corrective actions. Operators may also perform repair and maintenance work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of May 2018, gas plant operators earned an average annual income of $65,830, and petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators and gaugers earned an average of $66,020 per year. Jobs in these fields are expected to see only moderate growth--and in some cases a decline--from 2018 to 2028.

Requirements to Become a Pipeline Operator

Knowledge required by a pipeline operator includes operation and repair of mechanical systems, computer systems and applied mathematics, as well as safety and operational regulations. Problem-solving and communication skills are essential for preventing incidents before and during operations.

On-the-job training and apprenticeship programs are common, though employers prefer applicants with some postsecondary education or training in mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, electrical systems or a related field. Experience or technical coursework with hydraulics and industrial systems is beneficial.

Pipeline operators working in positions that directly affect the power grid must receive a certification from the North American Energy Reliability Corporation. Credentials are awarded after gaining a passing score on an examination and are valid for three years. The credential can be maintained by completing continuing education courses.

A career as a pipeline operator is dependent on the oil industry. Currently, growth in this field is below average or declining, however, that could change with the sudden ups and downs of the industry. A background in engineering will make you a competitive candidate, and knowledge of equipment, mechanics, math and safety is important.

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