A pipeline engineer works on systems used to convey oil and gas products. Such personnel work primarily for oil and gas companies, although some may be employed by government agencies in a regulatory capacity or private firms that conduct research without actually handling such products directly. This career usually requires a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in engineering. Some colleges and universities offer a concentration in oil and gas engineering, which can be advantageous.
Generally speaking, pipeline engineers are heavily involved in planning. Companies with pipelines in development use engineers to develop routes and technical specifications, including pipe size and placement. They can also discuss the location of maintenance stations, depots, and other accessory installations that support the project. Considerations for a pipeline engineer may include regulatory limitations and environmental issues, like the inability to run a pipeline through a seismically active area due to concerns about damage during earthquakes.
As the installation of a pipeline begins, a pipeline engineer participates in the quality control process. These personnel may inspect installations, perform tests, and check components against stated specifications and plans. If problems arise during development, the engineer may need to develop real time solutions in the field. Delays can be costly with major construction projects, making it important to creatively solve problems under pressure during construction.
Finished pipelines are also a concern for engineers. They establish maintenance schedules and may supervise complicated maintenance activities to make sure they are done correctly. In the event of problems, a pipeline engineer responds, determines the cause, and develops a plan of action. This may vary from replacing a section of damaged pipeline to changing a pumping unit to comply with new regulatory standards. Troubleshooting can be critical to keep a pipeline in continuous operation or respond to a spill in a timely fashion to limit environmental damage and financial losses.
Oil and gas companies usually maintain a full time engineering staff to handle ongoing needs, and may bring on additional personnel as needed for specific projects or incidents. Benefits are often available for a pipeline engineer, including paid travel to installations. Employees who need to stay in remote areas for extended periods of time may also qualify for paid vacation benefits, where their employers cover travel expenses and lodging for people who need time off. Some firms also cover family travel expenses to allow their personnel to meet up with family at a location between home and the work site during their vacations.