Originally published in STATE Magazine
On the average day, most Americans give little thought to the energy pipelines operating near their homes, businesses and highways. On the other hand, the safety and efficiency of our nation’s aging pipeline infrastructure and finding skilled workers to maintain it is a top concern for the energy-transportation industry.
Most of the pipelines in the United States are approaching 40 years old. Even the best designed and maintained ones require careful monitoring and upgrades. It’s a complex energy distribution network more than 2.5 million miles long. The system transports about 65 percent of our country’s crude and refined oil products and nearly all of the natural gas.
Materials and construction defects, corrosion and cracking, mechanical damage, device failures and malfunctions, weather-related damage, soil erosion, earthquakes and many other factors can compromise a pipeline’s integrity.
Recognizing an opportunity to serve the public, OSU Institute of Technology in Okmulgee launched a unique program to address the need for skilled pipeline technicians, culminating in an Associate in Applied Science degree in pipeline integrity technology.
“The genesis of our Pipeline Integrity Program came from workforce demand,” OSUIT President Bill Path says. “We have a long history of listening and responding to industry needs in the development of our programs and their curriculums because we see employers as our clients and collaborative allies in the educational process.”
Pipeline integrity management assesses and mitigates risks in order to reduce the likelihood and consequences of harmful incidents. The federal Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to adopt regulations on integrity management.
Strict government regulations and concerns about human and environmental safety, national security and energy supply reliability have led the pipeline industry to strive for a zero-fault integrity standard. At the same time, transportation companies report a persistent shortage of trained pipeline, corrosion and engineering technicians.
As a large portion of the current workforce nears retirement, industry leaders must replace and increase the number of qualified personnel to install, operate, maintain, repair and manage pipelines.
Through OSUIT’s program, graduates will develop skills, knowledge and experience in pipeline design, damage assessment, corrosion control, government regulations and integrity management.
Joining with industry leaders such as TD Williamson, MESA Corrosion, Chesapeake Energy, Devon, ConocoPhillips, Atmos Energy, Center Point Energy, DCP Midstream and Willbros Engineering, OSUIT’s Pipeline Integrity Program strives to lead the way in developing the next generation of pipeline professionals.
“The employment outlook for students trained in pipeline technology, safety, corrosion control and federal regulations is unparalleled,” says Mike Pierce, OSUIT engineering technologies assistant division chair. “Our graduates will be in high demand and trained in a career field with outstanding growth and income potential.”