Why This Article is Important to You
The purpose of this article is to make the public aware of job opportunities which could come available if gas pipeline replacement projects were accelerated.
The recent spate of natural gas pipeline explosions have started to convince people that our country’s energy pipeline infrastructure is in a dangerous and terrible condition. We now believe: Before we can bring new sources of energy on line or fully implement alternative energy initiatives a serious conversation about fixing our infrastructure must be had. It is a proven fact that a well maintained infrastructure promotes efficiency, reduces environmental impacts and promotes economic growth. Our pipeline infrastructure has been one of the key factors that has allowed economic expansion because we have access to reliable energy in every part of our country. Now that reliability is in question.
How Many More?
Utility executives and congressional leaders are being very cautious about investments in infrastructure because they want to control spending. No one can blame them for their frugality in these trying times. However there is a burning question that the utility executive and congressional leaders must answer: How many more people have to die in natural gas pipeline explosions before we get serious about replacing old pipes? The cost of cleaning up these disasters is far greater than the cost of fixing the problem. Before I get further into this article, let me share what writer Scott Kraus of Morning Call wrote about the Allentown, PA gas line explosion because it summarizes my point:
“In the aftermath of Wednesday [February 10] night’s cataclysmic gas explosion on N. 13th Street in Allentown, UGI crews tore up the street in a desperate effort to stanch the flow of gas through a cast-iron pipe that was installed in 1928, the same year penicillin was discovered.(article)”
A pipeline that was installed in 1928 could be a problem.
Facts You Should Know About Pipeline Infrastructure
- According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration(PHMSA), there are nearly 2,5 million miles of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines in the United States (See information).
- Between 1991-2010, the major cause of pipeline accidents is third party excavation damage which is where a contractor or private citizen ruptures a gas line during a construction project. These incidents comprised nearly 35% of the total incidents (See data).
- Over 53% of serious pipeline incidents were contributed to corrosion, operator error and “all other causes” (See data).
- The majority of the natural gas pipeline infrastructure was installed prior to the 1970′s.
- It costs about $ 1 million per mile to replace natural gas pipes.
The Big Problem: The Energy Utility Industry Needs People….Fast
Few people wake up in the morning and say “I want to be underground construction inspector, natural gas technician, pipefitter or welder”. These jobs do not register on the glamour meter like a software engineer, attorney or accountant but they are important in fixing our country’s pipeline infrastructure. The natural gas pipeline explosions are the tip of the iceberg of the real problem that faces our country’s energy utilities - a shortage of qualified employees. I am not implying that the current people on the job are not competent in their jobs. I am saying that their numbers are dwindling too fast to deal with the large over haul our energy delivery system needs. According to the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), the energy utilities are being decimated by waves of retirements and a lack of qualified job seekers. (see report). The issue may become more acute by 2015 as more employees enter the retirement window. Here is a breakdown of situation as CEWD reported it:
- Electric and natural gas utility companies employ over 500,000 employees. 172, 000 of these employees are classified as skilled labor: line workers, plant/field operators, pipe fitters/pipe layers/welders. 80,000 of these skill labor employees could be lost due to attrition and retirement by 2015. The recession has slowed hiring of new workers and retirements.
- CEWD reported that only 1 in 30 technician applicants make it through the testing, drug screening, background check or in person interview process. Only 1 in 50 electrical line workers candidates make it through the process for the same reasons. Energy utilities are working with high schools, community colleges and training programs to increase the number of applicants who can pass the testing requirements.
Are You The One?
The energy utility industry is primed for strong growth as new sources of oil, gas and green energy are brought on line. The most important step a job seeker can take to get into this industry is to get trained through an apprenticeship or an accredited degree program. Further these jobs require physical stamina and the ability to work outdoors for long periods of time. Here are the some descriptions from BLS.gov:
- Natural Gas Technician/Linemen
- Gas Plant Operators
What are your thoughts and questions?