A 2019 article published by Forbes reported that the United States had officially become the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, beating out Russia with 20% more oil and 25% more gas. The country’s oil and gas industry is currently experiencing a boom, producing both oil and gas at top rates, and is looking forward to even more growth within the next few decades.
With the growth of the oil and natural gas industry, API inspectors are likely to become more in demand. The American Petroleum Institute (API) is the only trade organization in the U.S. that represents all aspects of the oil and gas industry and provides official certification programs for those interested in working as an inspector for a thriving and developing industry.
An API inspector is certified to maintain standards of quality for various aspects of the oil and gas industry. The American Petroleum Institute has a wide variety of certification options that are all specialized in different parts of the industry, and have their own responsibilities and requirements.
API inspectors work on every part of the oil and natural gas collection process. For instance, one major aspect of their work is to maintain, inspect and repair pressure vessels, piping systems or storage tanks. They are often required to have an in-depth knowledge of safety and environmental regulations and must comply with any standards set by organizations like OSHA.
API also certifies workers from related fields as inspectors. Corrosion engineers, metallurgists or welders can all gain specialized knowledge of the oil and natural gas industry and become API certified.
Inspectors are vital to the oil and natural gas industry. By inspecting and maintaining equipment, inspectors make sure that everything is working as it should and can correct any errors or possible hazards ahead of time. Using inspectors saves money by extending the life of all equipment and avoiding major system failures or oil spills.
The vast majority of API inspectors—close to 90%—work in the oil and natural gas industry. However, some inspectors choose to work in a chemical laboratory, in the construction industry or in the utility and power industry.
Each type of API certification comes with its own set of education requirements before the candidate is ready to take the certification exam. The API website lists the requirements for all available certifications on its website.
While the educational and training requirements vary with each type of certification, many of the possible jobs are open to anyone, regardless of their level of education. Those who have achieved a lower level of education will be required to have more hands-on training experience than those with a higher level of education.
Most of the API certifications have the same education requirements, which determine the total amount of training a candidate should have: those with no formal education will need at least five years of training, a high school diploma or equivalent needs at least three years, a 2-year degree or certificate in engineering or technology requires two years and a four-year degree in engineering or technology requires only one minimum year of training.
As the certifications become more advanced, they also have more requirements. For example, a candidate can become a Lead Auditor if they have only a high school diploma or an equivalent, but they will be required to have at least 12 years of experience in the oil and gas industry. In comparison, a candidate with a four-year degree will only need seven years of experience.
Some of the more senior certifications are only available to those who have completed another certification program, not all of which are available through API. Any of the Ultrasonic Testing Examiner certifications have to have passed an ASNT Ultrasonic Testing certification at Level II, Level III or an equivalent.
Each type of API certification has a different average salary. For example, an API 510 or 570-certified inspector working at ExxonMobil can look forward to having a salary within the range of $58,448 to $82,966. An API 653 inspector, on the other hand, has an average salary of around $81,629, with salaries falling within the range of $69,754 to $93,657.
Salaries for API inspectors vary depending on a few different factors. Average salaries increase with the number of years of experience, the number of workers being managed and the level of education.
The average salary for a full-time API inspector—regardless of certification level or any of the other factors—is around $139,614, or $45.38 per hour for hourly employees. API inspectors are regarded as the highest-paid inspectors within the Nondestructive Testing industry.
In addition to a six-figure average salary, the majority of full-time API inspectors also qualify for benefits such as a 401(k) retirement, medical and dental insurance and paid vacation time.
But contract inspectors also have a solid income and plenty of opportunities. On average, contract inspectors make $66.77 per hour and work nearly 11 months out of the year. The average length of an assignment is around 32 weeks.
While every API certification has its own expectations for prerequisites, all certifications have the same basic requirements.
API inspectors should have gained at least some supervised experience before they are qualified to take certification exams. Those with a lower education level must have more hands-on experience in the field that they want to become certified in, while those who pursue a higher education level gain their experience through their education.
In general, the API does not require candidates to take a training course before they are eligible to take a certification exam. The knowledge needed to pass the exam can be gained through a formal education or through work experience; additional training programs can be attended if the candidate so chooses. There are certain certification programs, like the Auditor certifications, that do require candidates to take preliminary courses.
Some certifications, like API 571 Corrosion and Materials, do not require candidates to have experience specifically within that field; rather, candidates must simply meet the required number of years with any experience within the oil and natural gas industry. However, candidates may be required to have earned another certification type before taking the exam.
Certain certifications also require the candidate to have experience in other disciplines. For example, someone looking to earn their Internal Auditor Q1 credentials must have at least two years of general experience in the oil and gas industry, as well as at least one year of recent Quality Management Systems experience and either auditing training or experience.
Once an inspector passes their exam and earns their certification, they are able to hold that certification for a certain period of time before they are required to become re-certified. Most programs are considered valid for up to three years. In some cases, inspectors must also be able to verify that they spent a certain amount of time before their recertification performing work related to that field.
The Forbes report on the current state of the oil and natural gas industry is very optimistic about the future for the industry and for any oil and gas workers. America is expected to continue relying heavily on oil and gas for energy and will supply the vast majority of its own resources.
Stricter environmental laws will also bode well for the industry. Natural gas, in particular, is expected to grow immensely within the next few years as it provides an alternative to CO₂-heavy energy sources such as coal. The increased use of natural gas in the past decade has led to the lowest CO₂ emissions in the U.S. since 1985.
In addition to being a multi-billion dollar industry, oil and natural gas is one of the major employers within the U.S. economy. Nearly two million jobs are expected to be added to the industry by 2035.
There is plenty of opportunity for growth for individual inspectors as well. Those looking to become a senior inspector must have the appropriate certifications and enough years of hands-on experience.
Senior inspectors are expected to have earned their API 510, 570 and 653 certifications. These credentials give the inspectors specialized knowledge of pressure vessels, piping units and aboveground storage tanks, including how to maintain, inspect and repair these pieces of equipment and all associated regulations.
Inspectors wanting to reach a senior level must also have ample experience working in the oil and natural gas industry. Senior inspectors are recommended to have held their certifications for at least six years. In addition to their chosen specialization, inspectors should pursue experience in a range of technical areas. This allows the inspectors to gain a wider knowledge of their industry.
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