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A gas plant operator oversees the production, storage, and transport of different types of gases. Most operators work for utility and oil companies, where they check gauges and maintain equipment as necessary. They monitor and control pipelines, compressors, and distribution tanks to keep gases at proper temperature and pressurization levels. The specific responsibilities of a gas plant operator vary between different industries and companies, but most professionals are required to obtain extensive training to ensure efficient production and preserve the safety of plant employees.
Operators are responsible for making sure that gas plant machinery is running properly and that pipelines maintain the proper levels, flow rates, temperature, and pressurization. They usually work in control rooms, where they can monitor gauges remotely via electronic signals and specialized computer programs. Professionals often perform detailed preventive maintenance jobs to keep equipment clean and working properly. Gauges and other pieces of machinery are frequently tested to ensure that they are accurate.
A gas plant operator relies on detailed troubleshooting guides and personal experience to diagnose and fix problems. If a pipe or piece of equipment malfunctions, the operator will normally turn off the system and proceed to make the appropriate repairs. Minor adjustments and repairs are frequently needed at most plants, requiring operators to tighten screws and replace worn gears and valves. Larger problems may require a gas plant operator to disassemble an entire tank or replace sections of damaged pipe along a pipeline.
In order to perform the job safely and effectively, a gas plant operator must have detailed knowledge of physics, mechanical processes, and different types of chemicals. He or she needs to be able to make quick decisions when a piece of equipment malfunctions to get it back in working order as soon as possible. Further, an operator must thoroughly understand the potential risks involved when working around volatile, flammable fluids.
Due to the dangerous nature of the job and the amount of responsibility involved, a person who wants to become a gas plant operator is usually required to complete technical training programs and pass extensive licensing exams. Many community colleges, universities, and technical schools offer certification courses in stationary engineering and hazardous materials management. Formal, hands-on training is provided through apprenticeships, where new workers assist experienced operators in the field for a period of up to one year. Most countries and states require new gas plant operators to pass licensing exams that test their knowledge of safety and legal issues, terminology, and basic procedures.