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What does a Pipeline Operator do?

By Meghan Perry
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By whiteplane — On Aug 09, 2011

I went to college for an engineering degree that was focused specifically on pipeline maintenance. There are only a few programs like this but they are a big boost if you want to get a pipeline operator job.

As the article mentions, pipeline operations have become increasingly technical. It takes more than just an ability to fix things to keep pipelines in good working order. It requires a knowledge of physics, engineering and chemistry.

I would suggest to anyone looking to break into the industry that they get the most specific education possible. There is a need for pipeline operators but companies want to hire people who know what they are doing and can innovate.

By nextcorrea — On Aug 08, 2011

I worked on a pipeline in Alaska for a couple of years and I loved it. For me the best part was the schedule.

We would be on for a week and then off for a week. When we were on we would get flown out to distant parts of the pipeline and do maintenance checks that the company had scheduled. We were basically camping out each night we worked on the pipeline. At the end of the week we would get flown back to Anchorage and had at least 5 days off.

It was great. The work was interesting, the pay was good and you had lots of time to do what you wanted. At that time in my life that was exactly what I wanted.

By summing — On Aug 08, 2011

I think that being a pipeline operator will be a really good job moving into the future. I think that pipelines will be more important than even as we move through the 21 century.

Already there is lots of talk about using natural gas in situations where we now use oil or coal. Gas must be shipped through a pipeline and there will likely be new grids of them that will stretch across the country.

Also, as our oil supplies run down there will be increased demand for what is left, regardless of where it comes from. Pipelines will be used to connect major refinery with distant oil supplies. Oil in the future will be a precious commodity and pipelines will be more prized than ever.

Seems to me that pipeline operators are going to have an important role to play in our energy future.

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