Gas Processing Plant Operator Careers: Job Description & Salary

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Get the truth about a gas processing plant operator's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a gas processing plant operator.
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Pros and Cons of a Gas Processing Plant Operator Career

Gas processing plant operators follow the refinement of natural gas through a series of cycles that turn a natural resource into an efficient and transportable energy source. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a gas processing plant operator is right for you:

Pros of a Gas Processing Plant Operator Career
No formal education requirements*
Above average salary for education level ($64,100 median annual)**
Available full-time shifts or alternative schedules***
Affords an independent working style*

Cons of a Gas Processing Plant Operator Career
On-the-job training could last up to two years***
Potential exposure to hazards during processing cycle***
Possible night or weekend shifts***
Work available is primarily in gas-rich regions***

Sources: *Occupational Information Network, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***iSeek.com

Essential Career Info

At gas processing plants, natural gas is turned into a usable energy source through a heating and cooling the gas that is used to separate certain molecules. As an operator at a gas processing plant, you would oversee the steps of this refinement, which could include checking gauges to ensure proper temperatures, taking samples to check quality and making adjustments if you find something unsatisfactory. While monitoring the gas processing, you would keep logs and records of the gauges and test results. You would also need to be on the lookout for any leaks, safety concerns or machine parts that need repair.

Natural gas does not occur everywhere. The states with the highest employment numbers for gas plant operators in 2014 were Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan and Illinois. If you're interested in this career, you may need to relocate in order to find a job. Due to the nature of processing natural gas, many operators work in 12-hour shifts for days at a time. You may have a separate living space at the plant if your shifts require you to be continuously on-site for 4-7 days.

Salary and Job Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2014 that gas plant operators made a median annual salary of about $64,100 (www.bls.gov). From 2012-2022, the field was expected to see a moderate decline in employment, with a 9% drop in jobs.

Education and Training Requirements

There are not typically any formal training requirement to become a gas processing plant operator. Many natural gas extraction and distribution companies have their own training program which may take up to two years to complete. This type of on-the-job training is more common, but there are some programs offered by vocational schools and technical colleges. These certificate or associate's degree programs, offered in subjects like industrial process operations or process plant technology, can include courses in subjects like energy technology, safety procedures, mathematics and fundamental mechanical and electrical operations.

In addition to the proper experience or education to prepare you for a gas processing plant operator position, you will need to possess a set of skills that are important to the field. This could include having an attention to detail, being able to handle stress, having the ability to think analytically and being able to work as part of a team.

What Employers Are Looking for

While many job postings for gas plant operators mention a high school diploma and a valid driver's license as requirements, some also mention the physical requirements of the job, such as being able to lift up to 50 pounds or working at heights. Some also mention experience with digital control systems (DCS). Read these summaries of job postings open in April 2012 to get an idea of what employers are looking for:

  • A natural gas company in Texas was looking to hire a plant operator who had a high school diploma, a valid driver's license and two years of experience in the industry.
  • An oil and gas company in Wyoming was searching for a gas plant operator with a high school diploma and three years of experience, including exposure to DCS.
  • A company in North Dakota was looking for a gas plant operator with 1-2 years of operating experience, knowledge of safety regulations and experience with Microsoft Office.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Because you can begin work in the gas processing field after earning your high school diploma, you should take classes that will prepare you for operations work. Courses in sciences and mathematics can help you understand the chemical processes that take place in the plant and make calculations to ensure that these processes are running correctly. You may also want to take some computer classes because many plants are run with digital control systems. Since gas processing plant operators need a certain level of physical ability, focusing on physical education or even playing a sport may help to prepare you for this career.

If you live in an area with gas processing plants, you may have an opportunities to receive some training while you're in high school. Check with your school to see if there are any internship, job shadowing or other work-based learning options in which you could participate for school credit and real-world experience. Relevant work experience in the field is preferred by most employers for operator positions.

Other Careers to Consider

Power Plant Operators

If you'd like to work in the energy industry but aren't interested in working with natural gas, consider a career as a power plant operator. Power plant operators have similar tasks but work with many different energy sources to distribute electricity to local homes and businesses. Lengthy on-the-job training is commonly required, and nuclear power plant operators must be licensed through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee. The BLS reported in May 2011 that power plant operators made a median annual wage of about $65,000. From 2010-2020, the BLS stated that power plant operators, distributors and dispatchers as a whole were expected to see an overall employment decline of about two percent.

First-Line Supervisors of Extraction Workers

If you're interested in a supervision position related to the extraction of natural gas but you're looking for a job with better job growth, you could consider becoming a first-line supervisor for oil and natural gas extraction workers. According to the BLS, these supervisors are expected to see a 13.4% growth in employment rates from 2010-2020. A high school diploma and work experience is typically sufficient for such a job, and the BLS stated that, in 2011, extraction supervisors in the natural gas and oil field earned a median annual salary of about $80,000.

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