From the gas station where you fill up your car and the shower in your apartment to the vast expanse of your entire town, all of these locations are served by pipes. Whether it’s water, gasoline or some other material, it takes vast networks of pipelines to deliver the liquids and gases we use in so many aspects of our lives. And anywhere there are pipelines, there are pipeline welders.
Pipeline welders command premium wages due to their high level of skill, taxing demands of the job and necessity of their services. If you enjoy working in the field and are open to the possibility of lots of on-the-job travel, a career as a pipeline welder may be for you. Read on for the answers to your most pressing pipeline welder salary questions.
Pipeline welding is the sector of welding that deals with the construction, maintenance and repair of pipes.
Pipelines frequently transport water, crude oil, jet fuel, carbon dioxide, propane, ethane and natural gas. These are just some of the most common materials, however. Pipelines can transport pretty much any liquid or gas you can think of; Florida, for example, has a mile-long underground pipeline that transports orange juice, while many dairy farms use networks of pipe to carry milk from the animals into massive storage tanks.
In the field of pipe welding, you may hear the titles pipeline welder, plumber and steamfitter used interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Technically speaking, pipeline welders deal with pipes carrying chemicals, fuels and gases, plumbers deal with pipes that carry water, and steamfitters deal with pipes that carry steam.
A pipeline welder uses both automated and manual welding techniques covering a range of welding methods. Some of the most commonly used methods in the pipeline industry are gas metal arc welding (GMAW), shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), flux cored arc welding (FCAW), and submerged arc welding (SAW).
In addition to assembling and maintaining networks of pipes to the proper specifications, a pipeline welder’s job includes inspecting materials, preparing said materials and maintaining tools. The ability to read welding and piping plans is also a plus.
Pipelines can span thousands of miles, sometimes over desolate and far-off locations. This means the job of a pipeline welder comes with some unique challenges and inherent risks. Some pipeline welding jobs take place in extreme weather conditions, like in the sub-zero temperatures and snowdrifts of the far north or the 100+ degree heat of the desert.
There are pipelines that run underwater, which must be maintained and repaired via welding in a small dry chamber that can only hold two to three people at a time. Underwater welding also comes with a lot of pressure–both literally and figuratively speaking–so it calls for a thorough knowledge of atmospheric conditions and proper safety protocols.
Pipeline welding may take place deep underground, which can require working in cramped conditions without much airflow for extended periods of time (which requires a special confined space certification). Then, finally, there are sewage pipelines; repairing them is a dirty job, but someone has to do it (and whoever does is paid handsomely as a result!).
Pipeline welding happens in any industry where there are pipes, from automotive to manufacturing and beyond. The three industries below represent the largest portion of pipeline welding jobs.
One of the most prevalent industries for pipeline welders is the energy field. Whether it’s a traditional energy resource like crude oil or a renewable energy resource like ethanol, pipelines are critical for getting fuel from the source to customers in a reliable way.
The multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry is one of the biggest employers of welders, who work on the industry’s thousands of miles of underground and offshore pipeline as well as on rigs and at refineries. Pipeline welding most commonly takes place at what’s known as the ‘midstream’ phase, which deals in the transportation and storage of energy resources, but it can happen at any phase from the source to the end consumer.
The energy field is known among welders for its impressive salaries. The average pay for a gas pipeline welder in the U.S. is $73,000, with the top 10% earning $114,000 a year or more.
The applications of pipeline welding in the construction sector are as diverse as the structures produced by the industry itself. From single-family homes to giant projects like stadiums, pipeline welders are needed to assemble the structure’s water and fuel lines, drainage pipes and ventilation pipes. In addition to welding the lines themselves, a pipeline welder is responsible for correctly tapping them into source lines from the city.
Because the contents of the pipeline can sometimes be flammable, sensitive to pressure or otherwise dangerous, the pipeline welder must be extremely attentive to the proper procedures and protocols to avoid a major safety incident. Further, an error in their work could cause a service disruption to thousands of customers–if you’ve ever experienced a water outage because a nearby construction crew broke a water main, you know how frustrating and costly this can potentially be.
Pipeline welders in the construction industry frequently work on an hourly basis as independent contractors or as part of a union contract. Some of the most lucrative jobs in the industry offer pay ranging from $30 to $35 an hour, or between $58,500 and $73,000 a year.
Critical infrastructure is an umbrella term that covers the mechanisms needed for a society to function. In the context of pipeline welding, we’re talking about things like water supply systems, hospitals, fire suppression systems, wastewater treatment facilities and dams. These types of jobs are sometimes referred to as industrial pipeline welding.
Projects in this industry require a high degree of structural integrity to maintain service to the hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in the cities where they’re located. This calls for highly skilled pipeline welders whose strong and precise welds will stand the test of time and keep future maintenance to a minimum.
Welders in this field are in particularly high demand; industry sources cite recent welder shortages as a key problem facing our nation’s critical infrastructure field. The pay for pipe welders on critical infrastructure projects can vary widely depending on the job. GoWelding.org estimates the range between $50,000 and $185,000 a year.
Generally speaking, a career as a pipeline welder presents a solid opportunity to make a good living in an engaging, important line of work. Still, there are some places that are better to work than others. How much you can make as a pipeline welder varies based on location, availability of jobs, presence of unions and the relative cost of living. Here are three of the best states for pipeline welding salaries.
The Bayou State is one of the best in the nation in terms of both pipeline welder salaries and job availability. Oil and gas companies are prevalent, particularly those with operations in the Gulf of Mexico. More than 90% percent of waterborne oil rigs in the U.S. are located in waters off Louisiana’s coast.
The average salary for pipeline welders in Louisiana is $62,200, with the highest 10% of earners bringing in $74,000 or more a year.
It might come as a surprise to see New Hampshire on this list, as the state has no oil and gas activity and zero petroleum pipelines. Other industries, however, make up for the lack of energy-related pipeline welding jobs.
Manufacturing is the largest and most important sector of the state’s economy, and the commercial construction industry is also experiencing rapid growth. Both of these industries have generated a healthy demand for qualified pipe welders.
The average pipeline welder in New Hampshire earns $70,150 a year. If you’re in the top tier of workers in the field, you can make $117,000 or more annually.
Like its neighbors to the west in Louisiana, Mississippi is rich in diverse energy resources including oil, natural gas, coal and biomass. These sectors drive a strong demand for pipeline welders, who are needed to maintain the state’s 13,000 miles of energy pipelines.
Pipeline welders in Mississippi earn an average salary of $57,500, with the top 10% making above $70,000. The state also enjoys one of the lowest costs of living in the nation.
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