A pipeline operator generally works in a power plant, gas facility or oil refinery, and one of his or her main job duties is controlling the flow of oil, natural gas or other materials, depending on the type of facility in which he or she works. This includes regulating the flow from pipes in and out of tanks used for storage. He or she often works in an industrial control center, generally at a computer workstation that is used to control the operations in the pipeline. In addition, a pipeline operator sometimes directly observes pipes, equipment and tanks for leaks or other possible damage. Many pipeline operators work with very little direct supervision.
Another job duty of a pipeline operator is watching the instruments that regulate the pumps to make sure that there aren't any breakdowns or backups. If this happens, the pipeline operator is often responsible for troubleshooting the problem and repairing the equipment. He or she also operates the pumps to start or stop the flow of oil, gas or other liquid. He or she must also make sure that the temperature and pressure in the pipes are kept at a safe level. Some of the ways to control the pressure in the pipeline includes working with equipment such as heat exchangers, refrigeration equipment and compressors.
In addition to repair work, a pipeline operator sometimes performs maintenance work on the pipes as well, to ensure that they are in smooth working order. They might adjust valves and work with equipment such as pumps, cooling towers and heating coils. Communication with other pipeline operators is not uncommon. This is especially true if there are problems that need to be addressed. Communication skills are also necessary because one of the job duties might include writing daily reports and recording any problems with the equipment.
Some of the required knowledge includes how to operate and repair the pipeline systems, as well as knowledge of safety and operational regulations within the field. One way to get a job as a pipeline operator is through on-the-job training, although this has become less common as the job has become more technical. Apprenticeships also are an option, but higher education or training in mechanical systems or engineering has become more common. Some jurisdictions require operators to be licensed, again depending on the type of work being performed. For pipeline operators who work directly with the power grid, certification might be required.