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A Look at The Pipelines

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Gas is obtained from special wells driven into the ground. The vapor goes from the ground to a separation unit where various gases, liquids, and impurities are removed. Then the gas goes directly by pipeline to users or underground storage areas.

For a better idea of what it takes to lay a gas pipeline, let's turn back the calendar to 1943 when the government urgently needed additional energy in West Virginia for the war effort.

Tennessee Gas and Transmission Company

As America's industrial arsenal grew during World War II, defense plants in the Appalachian area began to run out of fuel and were in danger of falling behind their production schedules. Natural gas reserves were limited, and coal production could not keep pace with industry's needs. However, some 1,200 miles away, the Chicago Corporation, which owned a large natural gas reserve, was seeking a market for its underground surplus.

At the request of the War Production Board, the Federal Power Commission issued a certificate permitting construction of a natural gas pipeline from South Texas to West Virginia. The authorization was issued in September 1943 to a new subsidiary of the Chicago Corporation called Tennessee Gas and Transmission Company. In making the authorization, the War Production Board had stipulated that the 1,265 mile-long pipelines must be completed for operation during the winter of 1944-45.

The fledgling Tennessee Gas and Transmission Company had to assemble an organization, find the necessary materials, hire surveyors and workers to prepare 1,265 miles of right-of-way, let contracts, and construct the twenty-four-inch pipeline, all in record time in order to meet the deadline. In addition, they had to do all this at a time when materials and labor were practically unobtainable.

The first payroll was set up on October 1, 1943, with only a few names on it. Only five weeks after these first employees started work, all but one of the construction contracts had been let. On December 4, ground was broken at the Cumberland River in Tennessee, and the first mainline pipe was welded less than a month later.

The work had scarcely begun, however, before bad weather set in. By May 1 only 76 miles or roughly six percent of the 1,265-mile pipeline had been built. The heavy rain in construction areas turned normally workable terrain into impassible and impossible quagmires. Rocky and mountainous terrain and material shortages added to the mounting problems.

Summer brought improved weather and an increase in the construction pace. In spite of the difficulties and the slow start, the company met its deadline. Gas began moving through the new pipeline on October 31, 1944, less than eleven months from the start of construction. Tennessee Gas had laid more than 1,200 miles of pipeline during wartime, most of it in the last six months at a rate of nearly 7 miles a day. It had secured right-of-way permits from thousands of landowners crossed sixty-seven rivers and hundreds of roads, highways, and railroads; and built seven pipeline compressor stations. Natural gas, which would have gone unused or been wasted in Texas and Louisiana for lack of a market, was being burned in Appalachian factories where it was badly needed. Tennessee Gas had become an operating company.

In 1966 the company's name was changed to Tenneco, Inc. Today the subsidiary, which bears the company's former corporate name, Tennessee Gas Transmission Company, provides overall administrative and staff services for Tenneco's pipeline network of more than 16,000 miles, over 1.5 million compressor horsepower, in systems operated by four companies.

That original single line has grown into one of the nation's largest interstate pipeline systems, serving utility companies in twenty-five states. More than 85 percent of the gas consumers in Tenneco's popu-lous service area are high priority users-residences, hospitals, schools, and small commercial enterprises. In order to keep these users well- supplied, the company has traditionally relied on the natural gas pro-ducing areas of the Gulf Coast. However, existing reserves of gas are declining, and the company is therefore working to develop new re-serves. This decline in the nation's domestic reserves of conventional gas is a harsh reality, but the company and others in the gas industry are devoting every effort to develop additional supplies.

One major source of natural gas is the Prudhoe Bay area in northern Alaska. A pipeline was authorized to run south from Prudhoe Bay parallel to the Alaskan oil pipeline to Fairbanks, then east to the Canadian border to join a Canadian-built pipeline extending to the American border. Here one branch would head toward San Francisco and the other to Chicago in order to serve the upper Midwest.

In 1997 it appeared that the pipeline might never be built. The principal reasons were the high construction costs, the cost of the delivered gas, which could not compete with gas sold by other pipeline companies the difficulty in finding investors for the project and disagreements over obtaining right-of-way permits through Alaska. Perhaps at some future time, when other supplies of oil, coal, and gas become depleted, this pipeline will become as necessary to the nation as the one Tennessee Gas and Transmission Company laid during World War II.


Although pipelines are rarely if ever seen by the public, they are an important part of our transportation system, carrying 24 percent of all intercity freight. The 200,000 miles of pipeline total a bit more than all the miles of main line railroad right of way.

This vast system consists of two types of pipes: those that deliver crude oil to the refineries; and the smaller "products" pipelines that carry items such as kerosene or gasoline from the refineries. They deliver about 35 percent of all refined petroleum products sold in the United States.

Even before Edwin L. Drake made his famous discovery of oil on his Titusville farm in 1859, barrels of brine oil were being transported from wells in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, to distant points by wagon, boats, and railroad. The cooperage industry enjoyed a sudden boom with the demand for barrels, but it was six years after the black liquid was discovered that the pipeline industry was bom.

In western Pennsylvania Sam Van Syckel laid 6 miles of 2-inch pipe from the Pithold Field to the nearest railroad station at Miller's Farm. Now oil could be transported to the railroad at a savings of fifty cents a barrel. Soon other railroads wanted their share of the new business, and additional pipelines were built to carry oil to their tracks. The price competition brought rates down below the Van Syckel costs, and two years later this original company went bankrupt.

This did not deter further development of pipelines, however. In 1869 Tidewater laid the first long-distance line from Coryville in the oil- producing region, all the way to Williamsport. Now some six thousand barrels of crude were flowing each day through the 108-mile, 6-inch pipe up over the Allegheny Mountains. The competition between this and other early lines became so intense that rates for carrying oil dropped to the point where the railroads gave up soliciting long-haul crude oil transportation. Since that time pipelines have been laid throughout the world; most of the world's oil now travels by pipeline from wells to distant tank farms.

When oil was discovered in the Oklahoma and Texas fields during the early 1900s, no one even considered transporting the crude oil by railroad. Companies laid pipelines directly from the wells to refineries and tanker loading ports on the Gulf Coast. Soon sections of pipe were reaching Chicago and the upper Midwest. During the early 1920s the first crude was flowing to the Midwest from the Rocky Mountain area. These lines were usually 8 inches or smaller because larger pipe could not withstand high pressures. If greater capacity was needed, dual pipes would be laid side by side, but the 1930s changed all that.

High-strength and seamless pipe permitted companies to use lines of greater diameter than 8 to 12 inches. Although the larger pipe was more economical to operate, it proved more costly to build. Furthermore, it required more volume to fill than most refiners could provide; hence, two or more companies would join together to build these larger lines, enabling them to meet their total demand.

Oil is moved through pipelines by pumps that push it along at a speed of from 3 to 5 miles an hour. Before World War II pumping stations were spaced at 50-mile intervals along a pipeline, but today 80- or 90- mile spacing is common, and stations may even be as far as 150 miles apart. The distance between pumping stations depends on the diameter of the pipe, the type of oil being moved, and the terrain.

The rate of flow and pumping pressure are controlled completely, regardless of the type of crude or the product or how mountainous the terrain. Warning alarm systems protect the lines as do manual and automatic safety valves, which can close down the line if the pressure drops or rises too drastically. Remotely controlled stations have been installed in recent years, making it possible for an operator to control pumps, valves, regulators, and compressors from one central location.

As many as thirty different shipments may follow one another in close succession through the pipeline. Each shipment or batch is a different petroleum product or grade of crude oil.

Pipelines are patrolled constantly for leaks, which occur infrequently. In the past inspectors walked along the entire pipeline, but today many pipelines are patrolled from the air.

Gas and oil pipelines are similar in their structure. Actually an oil pipeline company is a transportation company. It does not own the product it carries, but merely delivers the petroleum from oil well to refinery. Competition between pipeline corporations for business from potential shippers is so intense that the four largest pipeline companies carry only 46 percent of the total traffic and the eight largest haul but 56 percent.
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