Doesn’t matter if you have just started to learn how to weld or if you have been welding at home for some time. There are a lot of opportunities out there for everyone. One of the most intimidating, but at the same time, interesting jobs in the industry is pipeline welding. A lot of people have misconceptions about the kind of work that you will have to do and the conditions in the industry. Let’s take a look at all the details associated with becoming a pipeline welder.
There is no specific qualification besides a high-school diploma and driver’s license but you should make sure you have the experience as a welder. Most of the time you will need to pass a 6G welding test before you can start your new job. However, the best way to start your career path as a pipeline welder would be to become a helper of another pipeline welder. That would help you to learn the recommended skills as well as practice your welding in the spare time.
A pipeline welder will need to stay away from his home for long durations and work in harsh environments. To counter this you will get paid a lot more when compared to other welding jobs.
Piping vs Pipeliner
The first thing you should be aware of is the difference between a pipeline welder and a piping welder. They might look similar at first but there is a difference and the working conditions can be highly varied between the two.
When we talk about piping, they are usually associated with working on the construction and maintenance of piping systems within one factory or refinery. People who work in this area have to deal with a lot of different types of pipes and materials.
On the other hand, when we are dealing with pipelines, we are talking about working on transmission pipelines which can go on for hundreds and sometimes even thousands of miles. They usually deal with the transportation of gas or oil from the refinery to other centers.
Pipeline welders usually deal with a lot of repetitive work and they have to use techniques that might not be that commonly used in other industries. There is one thing though because of the tough working conditions, if you can become a pipeline welder, you will not have a problem working anywhere else.
DO PIPELINE WELDERS TRAVEL A LOT?
Because of the sheer scale of the pipelines being made, sometimes you have to live in other parts of the coutry. There even are times when you have to travel hundreds of miles daily. Because of these reasons pipeline welders live some sort of a nomadic lifestyle.
But one thing to keep in mind is that most of the companies will provide you with accommodation and other amenities. On the other hand, it can affect your mental health as well as your family affairs because of being away from your loved ones for long periods of time.
DO THEY MAKE A LOT OF MONEY?
The amount of money you will earn will depend on the type of project you will be working on. On average, a pipeline worker earns more than any other regular welding job out there. This is because of the toughness of the job and the fact that you will be away from your home for a long time. Even within pipeline welders, the pay scale can vary depending on the job description. For example, if you will be welding on underwater pipes then the money you will be earning will be more.
On average a pipeline worker will earn about 60,000$ in the US. Within this average, the highest-earning pipeline welder was about 135,000$ annually while the lowest was about 23,000$. This is much higher than your average welding jobs out there.
WHY DO UNDERWATER PIPELINERS EARN MORE?
The reason why underwater welders will earn much more than the normal pipeliner is the harsh working conditions they are subjected to. As the name tells you, you will have to weld underwater. You need to be aware of all the risks that come with underwater welding and know your surroundings in case something goes wrong. On top of this, a lot of companies require the welder to be physically fit as well.
You can be subjected to work for 12 hours a day and sometimes even on Sundays. This does not give you a lot of time to do anything extra. The idea that you have to be ready to work in the dark and cold water does not sound really appealing right?
DO YOU GET DRUG TESTED AS A PIPELINER
The drug testing policies of a pipeline welding job can be very different than a normal job. The reason for this is the highly sensitive nature of the job, in terms of technicality and safety. Pipelines usually deal with gas and oil which are very sensitive materials to work with.
Most of the welders will be subjected to the department of transportation (DOT) and pipeline and hazardous materials safety administration (PHMSA) guidelines for drug testing.
There can be a lot of times you can be tested for drugs or alcohol during the job. One of the first times you will be subjected to them will be before the joining date. This is sort of a screening process for the employer to sift through people.
Another time you can be subjected to tests is the random prescribed tests by the PHMSA. Before the beginning of every calendar year, a minimum testing rate is prescribed. For example, if the rate is 25% then the employer has to make sure that at least 25% of all the employees are subjected to random drug tests throughout the year.
If you have been involved with some accident on the job you can be subjected to drug and alcohol tests to determine liability and insurance clearance. But this does not have to happen in every accident. The PHMSA states the list of accidents that require the test to be conducted. Some of them include the death of someone, damages above 50,000$, loss of gas, fire, and explosion, etc.
There are other times as well when you can be subjected to a drug test, if your supervisor thinks that you are showing symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse then they can subject you to a test.
AS A PIPELINER DO YOU WORK ALL YEAR?
This question really depends on the project you are working on. A lot of constructions work in a stipulated time period in which they have to be completed. If you have been hired for the entirety of the job then of course you will work for the entire project length which can easily turn into a year.
On the other hand, if you have been contracted to work on a specific part of the project then the job might be seasonal. What a lot of welders do is look for work in the north during the summers. This is the time when a lot of the seasonal projects in the north will open. And during the winters they go to the south.
WHAT WELDING METHODS DO THEY USE?
One thing you should keep in mind is that most of the time Shielded Metal Arc Welding is used on such jobs.
It’s not a situation where the work is going to be automated. The most commonly used technique in the world is Gas Metal Arc Welding. I hate to break it to you, but to become a pipeline you have to be a good stick welder.
A lot of hobbyists focus on the GMAW while ignoring SMAW. A lot of times there are situations where MIG cannot be used and this is where you will have to switch to SMAW. The most commonly used electrodes are that of low hydrogen or cellulosic electrodes.
If you are going to be involved in working on smaller pipelines, or even construction, a lot of times Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW) is also used. This is usually used to fill and cap passes. And if you have to work on ‘double Jointing’ then Submerged Arc Welding (SAW) is also used. Although in most of the projects the economics don’t allow for this method to be used. But even if it is, only a small number of people are assigned to use SAW.
ADVANTAGES THAT COME WITH BECOMING A PIPE WELDER
One of the advantages of becoming a pipeline welder is, of course, the higher pay but on top of this if you love traveling and working in different locations then this job is perfect for you. A lot of people think that if you can work as a pipeline welder then you can do any other welding jobs.
Another advantage is the job opportunities available to you. If you are skilled, you have the connections, and willing to work away from home, you shouldn’t have any difficulties in getting a job.
WHERE PIPELINERS TYPICALLY LIVE?
Depending on the project you are working on, pipeline welders usually move like as a team. You can compare this to a production team for a movie that has to move from set to set. Usually, welders stay in a joint room, either sharing the room with two or three people. if you are a senior on the team you might get to stay alone but that is rare.
WHAT CERTIFICATIONS I NEED BEFORE BECOMING A PIPELINER
There is no one particular certification that you need to become a pipeline welder. A lot of times a simple high school diploma is enough to get your foot in the door. Still, you need to have some skills and experience related to welding. I would recommend doing a college course on metallurgy or work as a helper for a pipeline. Even being an apprentice as a welder can help.
Just make sure you have enough experience and knowledge related to the welding processes before going to try becoming a pipeliner.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
If you are confused about whether you should work as a pipeline welder or not I have tried to answer some of the most common queries that people have about this topic.
One great thing about pipe welding is its high demand and low supply, because of the high travel and harsh environments not a lot of people sign up for the job. If you are skilled at your work, then you shouldn’t have a problem finding employment in this industry.
There is no special welding course you need to take; however, getting a certificate from a good welding school can help to get your foot in the door. Other than this you would need to pass the 6G test to qualify welding pipes in all positions.
In a 6G test a pipe is placed at a 45 degree angle in a fixed position. It is tricky because you can not move the pipe itself. You have to be great at positioning your body, moving as well as being able to in all positions.
To sum it up, becoming a pipeline welder is both exciting and nerve-racking for a lot of people. you should first make sure if the job is right for you. If you will be okay being away from home, then it is a huge plus. With the harsh environments comes lucrative pay as well.