The people of pipelines: Mark Allan, senior field operator

In this instalment of our People of Pipelines blog series, we meet one of the many field operators who help ensure natural gas transmission pipelines operate safely. Mark Allan works in the field where he monitors ATCO Pipelines’ system to prevent leaks and helps ensure the integrity of the pipeline is maintained and damage is prevented.

Mark Allan: senior field operator with ATCO Pipelines

Mark Allan

Mark Allan


Our ATCO Pipelines office is located on the east end of Edmonton; our pipeline system runs throughout Alberta; my area is mainly in central and northern Alberta.

Time on the job:

I have been on staff for 33 1/2 years and was seasonal for another three years before that. When I started, our company was Northwestern Utilities, which was both the high-pressure (transmission) and low-pressure (distribution) departments. We are now two separate companies: ATCO Pipelines and ATCO Gas.


We needed (training in) basic instrumentation, compressor operations and field handling of natural gas. ATCO has since trained us in numerous other courses such as first aid, H2S Alive and rescue, fire suppression and other courses related to specific equipment. I have also been sent to Snyder, Texas, for an odorization course.

What my job entails:

My average day can be a variety of jobs from checking receipt stations where natural gas enters into our pipelines and system. At these sites we will test the natural gas for levels of water and condensates and H2S levels. These sites may also have odorization equipment to be maintained. We also have delivery sites that we feed, which include power plants and refineries. We are responsible for inspection of our pipeline while other companies are working or digging around our pipeline. We are also responsible for maintaining regulation and relief equipment on our system.

How my job contributes to the overall safe operation of pipelines:

By testing for gas quality we prevent liquids from entering into our system. H2S is a deadly gas, which we also want to keep out of our pipelines. Proper odorization of our system helps in the detection of leaks. Maintaining regulators and relief valves prevent systems from over-pressuring. We are also involved in integrity digs on our pipelines and running smart tools inside the pipeline to detect any problems and prevent leaks before they happen. We also maintain all pipeline valving to ensure they work when they are needed.

Where my job fits within the life cycle of a pipeline:

My job is the operation and maintenance of the pipeline system. We also work closely with our construction crews on new pipeline improvements in the older systems.

How I’ve been trained to respond to a pipeline emergency:

We do several table-top exercises over the year where an emergency situation is presented to us, and we then have a discussion over what we think should be done and how to implement a plan. We train for working around H2S by first training on H2S and Scott Pak (a self-contained breathing apparatus) donning, which we have to do every six-months at minimum. We take fire fighting and suppression courses and have fire extinguishers on our trucks. In case of an emergency, we would be the first responders from our company.

* Mark received ATCO Pipelines’ Award of Excellence in 2011 for his leadership, outstanding commitment and dedication during his company’s response to the Slave Lake, Alta., wild fires.

What I most enjoy about my job:

What I like about my job is being able to travel and see so much of the province (Alberta). I also have been able to travel to Prince Rupert, B.C., Texas and Inuvik (N.W.T.). What I like most is the people you work with: from our section, the process control, compression, engineering and corrosion departments. We get to work very closely with these people, and it makes life easier when you work well together.

What you might be surprised to learn about my job:

I think most people would be amazed at the amount of time, effort and expense that goes into continually making pipelines safer – both technically and environmentally.

Now that you know more about what Mark does, get to know our other People of Pipelines:

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2012, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.